When you believe: Interview with competition judge, Patricia Q. Bidar

Believe you are entitled to this writing life. Write what only you can write. Read like crazy. Do your best to ensure the emotions you feel as you write will be felt by your reader. Avail yourself of the many classes, workshops, readings, books, and groups available to you. Many are free. Celebrate and honor our differences. And always take the time to uplift other writers. That’s my advice.

Patricia Q. Bidar

Encouragement goes a long way. I was that shy kid who would scrawl my poems out during class and slip them on my teacher’s desk. My mom and grandmother agreed that I was “backward,” being a curious and silent observer. I made other moms on our block uncomfortable! But I always felt welcome at our town’s library, and returned weekly for a fresh stack of books. 

I began working full-time at an early age – giving the creative life lip service but with no belief it was possible for me. Some restless spark endured. In my thirties, I applied to a college writing program. Those two years to focus on writing is a gift, the magnitude of which I still cannot take in. After graduation, I submitted my short story collection to a couple of high-level publishers; it was the same with my short stories. I had no real understanding of how else to proceed. I began work on a novel — still unfinished, but which I still love!

Flash Fiction America: 73 Very Short Stories

It has been more than thirty years since the term “flash fiction” was first coined, perfectly describing the power in the brevity of these stories, each under 1,000 words. Since then, the form has taken hold in the American imagination. For this latest installment in the popular Flash Fiction series, James Thomas, Sherrie Flick, and John Dufresne have searched far and wide for the most distinctive American voices in short-short fiction.

The 73 stories collected here speak to the diversity of the American experience and range from the experimental to the narrative, from the whimsical to the gritty. Featuring fiction from writers both established and new. Flash Fiction America is a brilliant collection, radiating creativity and bringing together some of the most compelling and exciting contemporary writers in the United States.

Arising from trauma in my teens, risky compulsions and self-defeating behaviour ruled my 20s and 30s. Then there was marriage, work, kids, and a mortgage, which needn’t have stopped my writing—I’m told. Today, I see working parents of young kids publishing and thriving. But it sure stopped me. I never accept it as a given that anyone can manage the headspace to write. There are plenty of reasons not everyone can pull off a writing life while working and raising kids.

Ingrained in me was the belief that a person like me cannot choose a life in the arts. Factor in a lack of entitlement, self-worth, the availability of mentors and role models, the aforementioned headspace, and any functional knowledge about how the process works. Further, in some cases, decision-makers have welcomed only certain versions of the working-class tale. 

After our kids left home, I continued to work too much, in the low-paying human services field, as well as freelancing in the early mornings and weekends. Once I took on a more niche full-time job as a grant writer, I returned to my own writing — 23 years after graduation from my program. I learned that the miniature but complete narratives I wrote had a name, and that was flash fiction. I enrolled in workshops and began sending my work out and participating in the online flash community. One of my first acceptances was from Wigleaf! I’m pretty proud of that.

The international flash community does beautiful things around erasing boundaries between people. 

Patricia Q. Bidar

I love flash fiction. If you’re reading this, you probably do, too. The international flash community does beautiful things around erasing boundaries between people. I know that some flash writers attended private colleges. For others, not having an MFA is a point of pride. Some have the focus and drive to build a writing life while also paying the bills. Some struggle financially and still write. Otherstake fancy vacations from swank homes. Some feel strongly about doing anything but writing professionally so as not to taint their artistic voice. Some get by on very little; some do not need to earn money. (This is the life my mother hoped I’d marry into, I think!) Through our work, even we fiction writers learn and share so much about who we are. I like everything about flash fiction, but our community, online and off—and the effort to make it more democratic and welcoming—is what I love most.

My parents didn’t attend college, but both were lifelong readers. My mother recently passed away. A family friend called her the most well-read person she’s ever known, going on to marvel at the many worlds that lived within my mom. Isn’t that amazing? Something for us readers to think about and appreciate about ourselves. 

I’m excited to serve as one of the judges for this competition. I’ll be looking for those tales and observations that no one but YOU could have forged. The earned, inevitable last line that is somehow also a surprise. A bit of magic. I know it when I see it.

For now, take some time to be inspired. There are too many superb flash writers out there to list. I recommend my fellow judge Eliot Li. His is a singular perspective: that of a health professional, family man, and son of immigrants. He writes fiction with the soul of a poet, in my opinion. A thoughtful observer with a completely original eye! There is some great work out there in Flash Frog, New Flash Fiction Review, Trampset, Vol 1. Brooklyn, Island Mag, Reckon Review, Banshee, Fractured Lit, Into the Void, and Milk Candy Review, to name a few journals publishing flash.

Next for me is a collection of flash fiction that I’m shopping to publishers now. I’ve joined the staff of Quarterly West, a lit journal affiliated with the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. My story, Over There, is included in Flash Fiction America (W.W. Norton, 2023). The book is available for pre-order now. I’m also excited that one of my flash pieces will appear in Blue Bob—a Dylan tribute anthology—published by a press I’ve been admiring for years, Cowboy Jamboree. That book will be released in early December. 

Believe in yourself and believe you deserve to do the things you love. 

Patricia Quintana Bidar is a writer from the Port of Los Angeles area. Her work appears in Wigleaf, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Pinch, Pithead Chapel, and Atticus Review, among other journals, and in numerous anthologies.

Patricia’s collection of short fiction was a recent finalist in the Moon City Fiction Award and Gold Line Press Competition. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in filmmaking from San Francisco State University and a Master’s in English from University of California, Davis. For more, visit www.patriciaqbidar.com

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