An introductory note on the story “Four Points and a Necklace” by Sharon Houk
For me, the genre of flash fiction is a delicious combination of poetry and storytelling. In China, this type of miniature story is called “smoke long,” meaning you can read it in the same amount of time it takes to smoke a cigarette. You can’t waste time. Every word counts. It reaches beyond itself.
“Four Points and a Necklace” was inspired by an x-ray. I was told to get dressed after four injections were fluoroscopically guided into my neck vertebrae, but instead I snapped a photo of the image remaining on the monitor. My neck: with four points and a necklace. Inspiration can come from anywhere: a picture, a phrase, a hat. Frankly, I have about five lifetimes of inspiration already backlogged. I’m never at a loss when I need a catalyst for writing.
The thing that tips inspiration into an actual piece of writing is some problem. I never write just to write. I write to solve problems. I write to understand something that is, for me, just beyond language. I mix fiction and experience and comedy and I don’t stop until I’ve said, “That’s it!” That was the thing. That thing. And sometimes other people find it entertaining, too, and all in the time it takes them to smoke a cigarette.
Sharon Houk is Adjunct Faculty in the department of Math & Computer Science.