Interview with Libby Flores, author of “Legs” published in Tin House Open Bar

Libby’s story “Legs” clocks in at just over 100 words and will take you a minute or two to read. But if you’re anything like me, you’ll read it over and over again, trying to figure out how she accomplished this in so few words. Read Libby’s story here. And check out our interview below.

Keith Lesmeister: There’s a kind of sensual ache in “Legs,” maybe even a touch of desperation, but it’s not romantic in the least. And you accomplish all of this — this mood — in just over 100 words. I’m not sure what I’m asking here. I guess I want to know: how the hell did you do that??

Libby Flores: First off, thank you for those kind words. Truth be told, I have no idea how I did it. I think there are weird windows in writing where you step into something that feels like it was already happening and you are just lucky to be there in time to put the words down. I remember sitting down that Sunday to fulfill my daily writing routine, and I was stuck. I texted a friend and said, give me four words. My promise to myself was to use those four words (all W words go figure) and then I could go about my day. I have since thanked that friend for those four words.

KL: You create these two characters, their lives, their situation, and render it so completely. Again, in so few words. Did you just drop in on them? Have you been living with these two characters for a while? How much (or how little) did you know about them before this story took shape?

LF: I didn’t know them before. I do feel like I happened upon two people in a state of disrepair. Maybe after a fight, or maybe after the last time they would ever sleep together. Now looking at it: the opposing factors at work were her last smidgen of hope and the stagnation that had taken over their lives, the world moving on without them. That need for a glass of water, well we know that expression —give a character something to want. In her case, that water represents so much more that just relieving a momentary thirst.

KL: Did you always know it’d be a short piece?

LF: Yes. When I write flash it tells me— rather than something I decide beforehand. It’s rare that when I am writing for me not to know it’s a flash piece. The last line never lies. If it rests, or as Amy Hempel used to say, “lands” that is always a great indicator to stop.

KL: The short form is such a wonderful, mysterious alchemy of just the right sounds and details, not unlike poetry. How conscious are you of these sounds and details while in the actual act of writing?

LF: For readers, I believe that is where the connective tissue of writing is found. Or as Sorkin would say that is where the writer eats. I have done some odd things to assure I’ve gotten a detail or sensation correct. The experience of a story, when it is at its best, is an accumulation of all the details so then it can deliver an unmistakable hurricane to your chest.

KL: “Knees like turned down saucers.” How did that wonderful simile reveal itself?

LF: Thank you, Keith. Oh dear, I don’t know. I can say this: I’ve had bad knees my entire life. I may be a writer that has had to think more of them than most.

KL: Other flash pieces or authors you might recommend?

LF: Lydia Davis, Joy Williams, Agatha French, Kristen Arnett, Jamie Quatro, Jamaica Kincaid, Grace Paley, Amy Hempel, Tin House Flash Fridays have excellent taste :). George Saunders “Sticks” splits me wide open every time. Anne Bettie’s “Snow” will peel the paint of your soul.

KL: What are you currently reading?

LF: Lots of poetry. Carl Phillip’s Reconnaissance. That book. Wow.

KL: Last question: turkey, ham, or vegetarian/other option for Thanksgiving? And what’s your favorite kind of pie?

LF: Turkey always. My mother’s butterscotch pie— every time.

Libby Flores is a 2008 PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow. Her writing has appeared in The Kenyon Review, American Short Fiction, Post Road Magazine, Mc Sweeney’s, Tin House /The Open Bar, The Guardian, The Rattling Wall, Paper Darts, and The Los Angeles Review of Books.