Michele Catalano has almost one million followers on Twitter, and it makes sense—the space-limiting social network bares a resemblance to Catalano’s weekly publication for 29th Street publishing, 1/100, which pairs photographs with concise 100-word bursts of flash fiction. Catalano, a freelance journalist for Forbes and 29th Street’s own Maura Magazine among others, manages to hint at fully fleshed-out tales in her truncated stories, leaving as much on the page as she does to her reader’s imagination and delight. We talked to Catalano (who we like to pretend is married to the famous Jordan) to discuss what drew her to short-form fiction, the ease of digital publishing, and how getting dragged into a national news story threw her family (and her writing) for a loop.
What makes for a good 100-word story, especially when the limit is so tight?
A good 100 word story should imply a beginning, middle, and end. You don’t always have to tell the whole story within the 100 words, but it should be there for the reader to grasp what happens before and after those 100 words.
Did any works of fiction inspire you to pursue short-form fiction?
I was inspired to pursue short-form fiction by a friend who started a site dedicated to it as a way of writing exercise. She picked a theme each day and we wrote 100 words on it, presumably to get the creative juices flowing to tell longer stories, but it turned out we were telling stories as is.
Has your flash fiction informed your journalism/ reporting or vice versa?
It’s helped me be a more concise writer. Having to tell a story in 100 words taught me how to cut the unnecessary from my writing.
How do you think photographs and words are connected?
Photographs are stories themselves. I wanted to combine my love for photography with my love for writing, and using my pictures as a jumping point to tell stories seemed like a natural thing to do. I like to take photographs and process them so as to invoke certain feelings; pairing words with those photographs embellishes both the words and the pictures. They feed off each other.
During some pre-interview Googling I discovered that you were involved in national/international news story earlier this year. How did this experience impact your writing and your relationship to the online world.
The whole experience was a nightmare. It caused a great deal of stress in my life and for weeks after it happened, I was unable to write anything, mostly out of fear of whatever I wrote being scrutinized. I was frozen, as far as writing goes. I was freelancing at the time and because I stopped writing completely (except for the 100-word stories); I lost some opportunities to freelance. I haven’t done any professional writing since that time. So yes, it had a great impact on me and my writing. I’m hesitant to share much of what’s going on in my life anymore. I have a Tumblr where I used to write wordy posts daily about life and since August it’s been mostly me sharing music and off the cuff remarks. Very little real writing going on there anymore, and I trace that back to what I now refer to as “the incident.”
Speaking of social media, you have a massive following on Twitter—were you an early adopter? How does that huge following affect what you share with your followers?
I’ve been using twitter since 2008. At some point Twitter listed me as a recommended user and I gained a lot of followers through that. At first having that many followers (there were a million at one point) [Ed note: Damn!] gave me a bit of stage fright as I felt like I had to “perform” for them on a daily basis and that made tweeting almost stressful. I learned after a while to ignore that number and just tweet as if I were talking to friends. I don’t hold back anything on Twitter, it’s the one place where I really let go. So I share everything. Some would say too much.
What has your experience with 20th Street Publishing been like?
I linked up with 29th Street Publishing through Twitter. I had linked a couple of my 100 word stories in my Twitter feed and David Jacobs mentioned that they would work well in a magazine form. Working within this realm has been a great experience. The software I use to publish makes it very easy to create and control what goes out there. This is the first thing I’ve published where I feel like I have full autonomy over what appears in the finished product.
What are you reading in these final days of 2013? Do you have any New Year’s resolutions?
Right now I’m reading several books (I always read more than one book at a time): The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll, A Very Recent History by Choire Sicha and Rob Delaney’s memoir Mother, Wife, Sister, Human, Warrior, Falcon, Yardstick, Turban, Cabbage. My one and only New Year’s resolution is to get my novel (in the rewrite/edit stage now) published.