Melissa Ostrom's flash story "Windford" appeared on Identity Theory in October, and today we nominated it for Best Microfiction 2024. Melissa is the author of The Beloved Wild, a Junior Library Guild book and an Amelia Bloomer Award selection, and Unleaving. Her stories have appeared in many journals and been selected for Best Small Fictions 2019, Best Microfiction 2020, Best Small Fictions 2021, Best Microfiction 2021, and Wigleaf Top 50 2022. She lives with her husband, children, and dog Mocha in Holley, New York. Learn more at www.melissaostrom.com or find her on Twitter @melostrom.
Talk about the piece you wrote for Identity Theory ("Windford"): How did you get the idea for it? What was the biggest challenge you faced when writing it?
The first line of “Windford” popped into my head, and I worked out a story around it. I liked how this opening implied an absent mother (that ever-fruitful trope) and thought it’d be interesting to have the mother linger as a ghost and to tell the story from her perspective. It’s a sad tale but hopefully not a sentimental one. I guess that was the biggest challenge—handling the poignancy of loss lightly and letting the ghostliness of my protagonist unfold in a subtle way.
How do you decide when a story is ready for submission?
This is tough. I can think a story’s ready and then, five years later, find myself tweaking it. For sure, my work benefits from a period of rest. After setting aside a story for a stretch, I’m able to return to it more as a reader than a writer, and this helps with the revision process.
How do you celebrate when receiving an acceptance?
The real celebration for me arrives on the pub date when I can share the piece with others. Twitter’s supportive lit community makes those occasions feel like parties. That’s a lovely thing.
What is your strategy for dealing with rejection?
One strategy other writers practice that I’ve recently tried to emulate is to offset every rejection with a new submission. It softens the sting.
Which authors do you believe are most influential to your writing?
There are so many fabulous flash fiction writers out there who have influenced my writing and inspired me. If someone is interested in reading work by the finest and learning more about the form, they ought to read marvelous journals like Identity Theory and check out Wigleaf Top 50, a yearly compilation of especially striking flashes, as well as the two anthology series, Best Microfiction and Best Small Fictions. As for novelists who inspire me, Jeanette Winterson, Marilynne Robinson, Toni Morrison, Anne Tyler, Jane Austen, Dorothy Sayers, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Edith Wharton come to mind.
How do you go about improving as a writer?
I practice writing daily and read good books.
What writing or publishing advice would you give your younger self?
Around fifteen years ago, I began writing regularly and made novels my goal. I eventually queried agents, and though The Beloved Wild won me representation, I had gone through the querying process with three novels prior to that success. So much rejection! I was discouraged. In retrospect, I wish I’d devoted my emerging-writer energy to crafting short stories and flash fiction rather than novels, largely because I might have experienced some measure of success sooner. It’s easier to find a home for a story than it is to find an agent and a publisher for a novel.
Is social media good for you?
I’ve made delightful friends on Twitter and found a vibrant, warm writing community there. Engagement takes time, but I learn a lot, come across so many excellent new stories and novels, and find opportunities to support others. As long as I stay in my own little corner of Twitter, my experiences are mostly positive and rewarding.
What are some of your favorite online lit mag stories by other writers?
Kathy Fish recently had a piece called “Procession” published in swamp pink, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I also love Lydia Davis’s “Everyone Cried” and “The Outing,” George Saunders’s “Sticks,” and Carolyn Forché’s “The Colonel,” all flashes readily available online.
Aside from your Identity Theory piece, what’s the one story you’ve published that you’d most like people to read?
Bonus: Do you have any pet photos you’d like to share?
Do I ever! Here’s my sweetheart Mocha.