Hugo House instructor Stacy D. Flood is a playwright and fiction writer whose works have appeared at ACT, Ghost Light Theatricals, Theatre Battery, and Theater Schmeater in Seattle, as well as in SOMA Magazine, Seattle Weekly, among other publications. His novella, The Salt Fields, was published this spring by Lanternfish Press.
This summer, Stacy will be teaching The Art of the Novella, a four-session class that dives into the form of the novella, outstanding examples of the form, and how it differs from an elongated story of novel. We recently caught up with Stacy via email to learn more about his path as a writer, his upcoming class, and how his work as a playwright influences his fiction.
Can you tell us a little bit about your path as a writer and what drew you to playwriting and fiction in particular?
I think I’ve always been obsessed by story, and even as a child I would create short, sometimes episodic, narratives with the toys and items around me. From there I wrote short stories in high school, more stories and screenplays as an undergrad, and studied fiction, novels, and novellas in graduate school. Then I studied playwriting and increased my passion for the power of successful dialogue—both in what’s said along with the silences which define a character, and also what makes us, as an audience, pause our lives long enough to listen.
Through the study of these forms, I worked to craft the stories I wanted to tell through the format suited for a particular narrative. Ultimately, though, as the famous saying attests, content helps define form, so I constantly strive to choose the right one for the story at hand.
Even today, I’ve been known to value great stories, great storytellers, and the structures available to present them. But it is the compact nature of plays, short stories, and novellas—the art of captivating an audience for a short period of time but leaving them with so much more afterwards once the lights rise and the last page is turned—that continues to excite me and make me a lifelong fan.
Your upcoming class, The Art of the Novella, dives into the particularities of the form and how it differs from short stories or novels. What would you say is the most important lesson you’ve learned (so far) about working in this form?
Without question most of my favorite books are novellas, and what makes me so passionate about this form is how so many of its aspects, given its shorter length, need to be carefully balanced and considered in order for the work to be successful. The novella encourages practice and revision, two things authors often hate but which pay off dividends for any form of writing that follows. Structure, progression, and language have a heightened impact on the novella reader, and even though the work itself can be read in a single sitting, a narrative flow is still necessary to keep this audience engaged.
The novella reminds us that a raindrop can be just as complex as a waterfall, and sometimes more elegant. The style has its own parameters separate from those of a short story or novel, and each time I reread my favorite novellas, or find a new gem, I discover so much more than I originally noticed, or even envisioned. Each time I leave the text thinking more deeply, and ready to delve into it yet again.
Your novella, The Salt Fields, was published earlier this year by Lanternfish Press. Can you tell us a little bit about the book and what inspired it?
Inspired by both stories told and kept hidden, and set in 1947 amidst the Great Migration, The Salt Fields chronicles the day’s journey of four African American passengers—a teacher, a soldier, and a young couple, each heading north for a new life, but none sure of what that means—as they travel through a myriad of locations, histories, and events that shape who they are, what they dream, what they are escaping, who they will eventually become, and what experiences they will have to endure in order to do so. Themes of history and hope, and how both of these change over time, are present as we journey with these travelers into their unknown.
You’re also a playwright. How, if at all, does your work writing for the stage influence your approach to fiction, or vice versa?
I love what great dialogue can accomplish for any work of fiction. Likewise, while scene structure played very heavily in the design of The Salt Fields, even before that much of my work focused on the importance of a scene—what each character wanted from the dialogue, interaction, or actions within—to define where the narrative traveled next. The beauty of a great scene is how it is able to hold an audience, often enraptured, on every line and activity, and I truly work towards such for my readers.
Many times, as a reader myself, I’ve cherished the moments where I’ve openly laughed or gasped or felt my heart skip a beat on a great line of dialogue. And I’ve equally cherished those moments where I missed my stop, or stayed up too late, enraptured in a scene, unknowingly holding my breath all the while. Moreover, though, I want to collect these scenes into a satisfying and enriching overall experience. In both my fiction and my playwriting, I want the journey to be captivating and elevating at the same time, yet with the audience or reader also coming away from that same experience with something to think about—big questions rather than easy answers, ones to be discussed and debated over dinner or dessert afterwards.
How would you describe your approach to teaching?
In my classes I really encourage students to become involved, to hold space as they are comfortable doing so, and to respect the visions, intellect, insights, challenges, and perspectives of each of their classmates. So much learning can happen through listening and reflection as well as through dialogue and discussion, respecting both what one chooses to share in addition to how best to assist another’s journey. My role is to offer guidance and feedback, to lead the class to artistic discovery, and to leave you with some direction for your future writing odyssey.