by Susan Tepper

 Araton-Harvey-ap1-280x186Harvey Araton is a sports reporter and columnist for The New York Times. He was nominated by The Times for a Pulitzer Prize in 1994; was named 1998 Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association; won first place in 1994 for Best News Story from the Associated Press Sports Editors; won first place in 2005 for Column Writing from the New York State Associated Press Association; and was honored in 1997 and 2007 for Column Writing by the Associated Press Sports Editors. In 1986, he received the Feature Writing Award from the Associated Press Sports Editors.” [from The New York Times] He discusses his new book, Cold Type, in this conversation with Susan Tepper

Susan Tepper: You are a career journalist as well as a book author. How much do you relate to the inner life of your protagonist, Jamie, who is also a newspaper man?

Harvey Araton: I think I best relate to Jamie through his ambivalence, his general sense of uncertainty over where he belongs with regards to his work, or even whether he belongs in that world at all. While Jamie often feels like an outsider in his own family of newspapermen, I struggled with the fear of being trapped within my own family’s lack of upward mobility and have had to fight the notion that I was somehow fooling people along the way to a four-decade career in journalism. Perhaps to some extent many of us deal with such doubts, especially with work that is publicly judged.

ST: That’s for sure. Anything we put out there in the public domain is subject to intense scrutiny, and we often take that scrutiny into ourselves very personally.

HA: In Jamie we have a character who seems to resent the people around him who walk and talk with a self-assurance he can’t muster or relate to. He correctly assesses and understands that audacity typically wins out in the sensational world of tabloid journalism, but he prefers a more nuanced approach, more order and predictability than the world in which he works.

ST: His struggle with order and predictability extends beyond the newspaper world, too, in this novel, as he is in the midst of a marital breakup when the book begins.

HA: Yes, life is spiraling out of Jamie’s control and without much direction from him. His wife had dictated a move to a distant suburb and greeted him at the door of their new home by announcing an unplanned (at least by Jamie) pregnancy that immediately put him under enormous pressure to advance and earn more money at his job. While he ultimately succeeds, he inadvertently creates schisms not only with his wife but also with his father, leaving him in precarious personal and financial positions.

At the outset of a strike at the newspaper, the heart of the story’s conflict is set in motion as the divergent interests of Jamie and his father create a much-too-public and violent confrontation between them. And one that is exploited by several people for various self-interests.

ST: Do you think it took a great deal of bravery on Jamie’s part to cross the picket line alone?

HA: From my own singular experience of crossing a picket line (for one day) during the Daily News strike of 1990-91, there can be a certain sense of bravery, however misguided the act is in the first place. Sort of facing the music and your fellow strikers, as opposed to sneaking in a side door, as one of my sports colleagues did that same day. Jamie’s decision is more tortured, based on the generational differences with his father and resulting acrimony. Part of his decision to cross his father’s picket line is to confront him, finally demand the attention he felt lacking in his life and incapable of otherwise earning. But while Jamie crosses alone, an act that becomes a pivotal part of the story, he does so with the assurance that Patrick Blaine, the paper’s esteemed columnist and someone he greatly admires, is already in the building. It provides for Jamie a sense of comfort. But that is obliterated once he enters the newsroom and discovers what is really going on.

Jamie and his father become victims of their own industry’s insatiable appetite for news however it can get it. Finding a path to family resolution for Jamie—and especially his desperate need to maintain a relationship with his two-year-old son, the one joy of his life—will not be easy.

coldtype

ST: Cold Type (your title) is a newspaper term that a lot of people may not be familiar with, can you explain it to us?

HA: Hot Type was the primary part of the printing process back in the dark ages of publishing, lasting—depending on where you were—into the late 1970s. The process actually involved injected molten type mental into a mold that would ultimately be fitted to become a page. It was painstaking and even potentially dangerous work that created a composing room that was a cacophonous and crazy, certainly by today’s technological advances, the kind of place Morris Kramer—Jamie’s father and longtime printers union leader—would naturally romanticize roman like an old war veteran. He brags to his indifferent son about the days when the paper couldn’t be put out without the proud tradesmen, even if reporters got the bylines, the glory and the starring roles in Hollywood movies. When these old composing rooms were finally replaced by the room-cooled hum of the computer age, the new age of printing became known as Cold Type. The decision to use it as the book’s title reflects not only the evolution of the industry but also the chilled relationship between generations or, in the case of my narrative, father and son.

ST: I have always been enamored of journalism, and journalists. There is a kind of glamorous noir quality to the concept of ‘the newsroom’. Do you think with Jamie there is more than meets the (surface) eye? Is he perhaps out to carve his place in history, consciously or otherwise?

HA: I agree that the newsroom, be it for print, electronic or digital, has, for many, been a very seductive workplace. Hence, the glut of films and television shows across the decades, from His Girl Friday to Mary Tyler Moore to HBO’s latest iteration, The Newsroom. After almost four decades at four very different newspapers, let me just say that the reality, for most, is that the newsroom is far more about stress and toil than it is about glamor. But, yes, there is no denying that the untidiness of it all, the daily racing against the clock, has been an attraction for me, as well as an affliction and a way of life I worry will be difficult to replace when I am done with my daily journalism career in the not-too-distant future. Jamie, conversely, was never consciously drawn to the newsroom; for him it was going there as a matter of survival, a chance to do something, anything, to earn a living. He resented the family help he needed to get there, the sacrifice of having to work in the shadow of his father, a printer but also a respected union strongman, and his cousin, always the cool kid and the star Jamie never imagined he could be. Most of us spend a good deal of our working lives trying to find or sustain that proper balance between personal and professional. But the tangled events that create the arc of the story lead Jamie to the threshold of media celebrity and the existential dilemma of having to choose between that and his young son, who provided the inspiration that drove him to professional triumph in the first place. Should he let go of the rope after he’s finally climbed to what feels like the top?
ST: He should not let go of the rope.

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Susan-Tepper200w

Susan Tepper has authored 5 published books. The latest is a novel in stories called The Merrill Diaries, from Pure Slush Books. She is a named finalist in storySouth Million Writers Award for 2014, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in fiction (2010), and nine times for the Pushcart Prize. Tepper is a staff editor at Flash Fiction Chronicles where she conducts the interview series UNCOV/rd. www.susantepper.com

 

Editor’s note: This is the final installment of Susan’s UNCOV/rd series. Thank you, Susan, for an entertaining and educational series. Hopefully, she’ll be back in 2015 tackling a new project.

by Jim Harrington

Queen’s Ferry Press is in the process of collecting stories for an annual anthology to be titled The Best Small Fictions. Fiction and prose poetry from 6 to 1,000 words published during the current year are eligible for inclusion. For the first edition, nominations will be accepted from October 1, 2014 through January 24, 2015. Journal editors and book publishers may submit up to five nominations (print or online) from their journals, chapbooks, broadsides, or story collections.

I interviewed Tara L. Masih, Series Editor, about this project.

TARAMASIHPICTara L. Masih has won multiple book awards as editor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction and The Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prizewinning Essays. Where the Dog Star Never Glows: Stories was a National Best Books Award finalist. Her flash has been anthologized in Word of Mouth, Brevity & Echo, BITE, and Flash Fiction Funny; was featured in Fiction Writer’s Review for National Short Story Month; and was a finalist for the Reynolds Price Prize in Fiction. Awards for her work include first place in The Ledge Magazine’s fiction contest and Pushcart Prize, Best New American Voices, and Best of the Web nominations. www.taramasih.com

Jim Harrington: Hi, Tara, and thank you for agreeing to be a part of The Best Small Fictions. What is the purpose/goal of this effort?

Tara Masih: The purpose is to provide a forum for writers who are producing extremely well-wrought small fictions, a forum that recognizes their work at the end of the year. Most of the other genres have this formal recognition, but the short-short story does not. There is of course the venerable Wigleaf Top 50 list, and your own list that appears during short story month, but these lists appear online. We wanted to resuscitate the print series Robert Oberfirst published in 1952–1960, his Anthology of Best Short Short Stories. Enough small fictions were produced at that time to command a yearly volume. Our word count limit is a bit smaller than his, and we have a new title, but Queen’s Ferry Press and I believe enough quality work is being published again to merit an annual anthology. Consider this a contemporary nod to an old era when the short-short thrived.

JH: There have been flash fiction anthologies published before this—the Sudden Fiction series comes to mind. How will this anthology be different?

TM: And the Flash Fiction series. Both groundbreaking anthology series that are highly respected. Each series has its own criteria for inclusion and covers a broader spectrum over a number of years. Ours will be different in that it will be briefer, more inclusive of experimentation and different word lengths, and have the barometer of being the best work within a certain year. I think the confines of the calendar year will lead to a different feel. I’ll be curious to see if any specific topics keep coming up that reflect world headlines. We’re also opening it up internationally, so readers in the States will get a taste of what is being published outside its borders, and vice versa.

JH: The guidelines mention “hybrid fiction” and “experimental form.” Editors and publishers may have different definitions for these terms. Can you tell us a little more about what you’re looking for, as regards hybrid and experimental stories?

TM: I welcome the different definitions of hybrid and experimentation. I’d rather leave it up to the editors to decide what they want to send in. Basically, if it’s small and contains elements of a fictional story, I don’t care what form it comes in. Graphic stories can be submitted, too, as long as there is text.

JH: Do you have an idea of how many stories will be in the final version?

TM: Since this is the first year, I hesitate to give a firm number. We have a goal, and we’ll see if we can reach it. But it will depend on submissions and the quality we receive. We won’t be making compromises to “fill” the book. We’ll only publish what the guest editor feels is the best of the year. We anticipate that it will be a slim, affordable book, densely packed with excellent, eclectic stories.

JH: Robert Olen Butler is selecting the winners from the finalists. How exciting is that?

TM: More than exciting. I can’t tell you what this means to both me and the press. It shows his character, that he’s willing to take time off from writing his latest novel to do this for a small press because he believes in the project and the idea of it. He and I work well together, too, so he was our first choice for guest editor, and we’re honored he accepted. He has a great feel for story and it will be fun for me to see what he eventually chooses as “The Best.”

JH: What else would you like our readers to know about this project?

TM: That this project is for the writers who voluntarily spill their thoughts and feelings on paper, in a small space, then send it out and hope it gets accepted, into a world that doesn’t completely value its worth yet. It’s a tough process and takes its toll. This project I hope will give the writers who are commended the recognition they deserve and a small boost to keep writing, and the editors who publish them the satisfaction that they chose well. Editors often go unnoticed. This gives them some accolades, too. We’ll make sure the publishers of the stories are acknowledged in some way.

JM: Thank you, Tara. This sounds like an exciting project, and I look forward to reading the finished product. You can learn more about The Best Small Fictions on the Queen’s Ferry Press website.

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jimharrington2

Jim Harrington began writing fiction in 2007 and has agonized over the form ever since. His stories have appeared in Every Day Fiction, Liquid Imagination, Ink Sweat and Tears, Near to the Knuckle, Flashes in the Dark, and others. He serves as the Managing Editor for Flash Fiction Chronicles. Jim’s Six Questions For . . . blog provides editors and publishers a place to “tell it like it is.” You can read more of his stories at http://jpharrington.blogspot.com.

by Andreé Robinson-Neal

Andree-New

Hopefully you all survived the three most momentous days of November: Gray Thursday, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday. And if shopping and eating were not on your list of to-do’s for the month, Flash Fiction Chronicles had more than enough to keep you occupied. The month began with a visit with Rolli and a review of his latest book, I Am Currently Working on a Novel, which is enough to distract you from whatever else you planned to do online today. R.L. Black added to the distraction by giving us fantastic tips about writing spooky flash fiction. She points us to the things that make great flash but takes it further with one primary pointer for writing horror flash: “write what scares you.”

Some might interpret the slope as John’s descent, but he’d have to arrive somewhere first before having a drop off and I don’t think he reaches the pinnacle of anything other than his own misery.

That wonderful line is from Susan Tepper’s chat with Richard Fulco for November’s UNCOV/rd. He’s talking about the main character of his debut novel, There Is No End to This Slope. You will most certainly want to slip your credit cards away after you pick up this morsel.

For many parts of the world, November is a solid mark of fall—brown leaves, cooler temperatures—and drives writers in front of their space heaters or fireplaces to conjure unplagiarized versions of dark and stormy nights. Elizabeth Maria Naranjo gets us in the mood for what comes next: the editing process. Many writers hate self-editing but hate having their work dissected by someone else even more. If you came up with the next best seller during the month for NaNoWriMo, give her article a once-over so you know how to react when you take a first look at the mark-up after editing. But before you click “send” to get your tome into the hands of your editor, consider Cameron Filas‘ suggestion to make notes from previous rejections and comb through that manuscript first. He takes us old-school by suggesting sticky notes, but he advises we can keep it high-tech, too. And before you decide to chuck the idea of using a third-party editor (instead of your best friend), give Sarah Crysl Akhtar’s piece on what a real editor will tell you and how it helps your writing a good once-over.

If you are not a flash fiction writer but want to give it a go, Mark Budman offers practical points and examples of how it’s done. He even reminds us that “flash writers are the enemies of fat.” Perhaps his article should have come along in January when we make our New Year’s resolutions … Fortunately RK Biswas’s review of  My Very End of the Universe – Five Novellas-in-Flash and a Study of the Form is a giant bellyful of flash and skill-builders. Rose Metal Press offers this hefty volume, not just for our reading pleasure, but to help us learn the what’s and how’s of “doing flash.”

Speaking of how to do flash, Aliza Greenblatt introduces us to Jeff Switt, the EDF Top Author for October, whose piece “Halloween Coming Out” gives us a sample of someone who has a handle on this flash business. Gila Green offers us a step-by-step for building character-driven flash in which we cut the fat and get on with the enjoyment of writing.

As we neared the end of November, Jim Harrington brought back an interesting quote for us to sink our teeth into. The point is something that serves as a main ingredient in most of the posts from the month: tell the story. And the period on the sentence? Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s share from the EDF Archive, in which the author offered a great story that, as she says, is also “a perfect example for writers on why less is so often more.”

Hopefully our November offerings satiated your mental hunger pains for flash and more! Be sure to visit for more this month.

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Andreé Robinson-Neal got bit by the writing bug back in the late 1970s while watching Rod Serling and reading Ray Bradbury—both of whom are everyday inspirations; although she has worked in education for more than a quarter-century, she has never been cured of her penchant for speculative fiction. Find some of her flash fiction at starvingartist.com. She writes under the name AR Neal, who will hopefully one day be identified as a famous NaNoWriMo participant.

 

by Bonnie ZoBell

Bonnie ZoBell

We published a similar round-up, only it was of writers’ advice about how to organize a fiction collection in February, and it became a two-parter, Part 1 and Part 2. I said then as I will now, this is one of the main things I hear writers of stories talk about. How can you best enhance your collection by the order you put them in? The answers are all different with some Editors/Publishers getting more involved in the process and others feeling this is definitely the writers’ prerogative. See what the following presses and peeps have to say about the organization question.

Mike Young at Magic Helicopter Press

A chapbook is a strange form, but it doesn’t have to be, or—rather, better, more excitingly—a chapbook can remind us that every form is strange. What I like out of a novel struture is an awareness of what expectations I’m bringing to it but a desire to upend or reinvigorate those expectations. After all, why read yet another anything if not to have a new shake? Same with collections, and particularly with small collections, which because they are small make you think, naturally, “Why just these few stories? Why these really short stories? Why not a whole book? Why this handmade cover? Why this sneaky art?” When I think of how to organize a fiction chapbook, I think of the form itself: small, sneaky, held close, pocketed, stashed away, tucked away. As far as organization goes, there are some straightforward principles: 1) put your hookiest story first, maybe go for a story that is in some way the scarf you’d wear to the party, which is the first thing people are going to see but also the first thing you’re going to take off. 2) Longest story in the middle, the sustained story, the heavy memory in the kitchen. 3) Last story seems like it should be gestural, maybe the most mysterious, leave the reader remembering an inscrutable toss of the hip. But that’s a pretty prescriptive trio of rules, so really what I’d like to return to when it comes to advice about organizing a chapbook is to remember what it will feel like in the reader’s hand: pretty secret, definitely more secret than a paperback, quicker to melt, and maybe something you want to keep digging at with your teeth, something you’ll want to treat a little preciously but you know you’ll end up smudging.

 

Erin McKnight at firthFORTH Books

The best chapbook organization, I believe, should go unnoticed by the reader. As with any individual piece of writing, a well-structured collection will simply work and seem to do so effortlessly and without calling attention to its assemblage. Organizing multiple pieces of short fiction can seem a daunting task because achieving both cohesion and variety is the goal—a linking within the collection should be evident, but each piece should also stand alone in its representation of the greater work. The fight for space in a collection unfortunately often manifests in top- or bottom-heaviness, or hasty inclusions intended to create balance. And what happens if pieces, similar in some way, lie consecutively? Will opposing pieces clash?

Another complication arises when working with a title story: Should it come at the beginning of the chapbook? The end? Should it be used to support a middle section that may otherwise sag? Add numerous additional considerations like length and point of view and narrator characteristics and geographical concerns and stylistic worries and … you get the point. After writing that may have in some cases taken years to perfect, putting together the chapbook can feel a torturous practice hurdled with numerous possibilities and prohibitives. Rely on theme, however, and you can’t go wrong; in fact, think thematically about organizing the chapbook and lace your unifying idea as the connective tissue between story muscles and you will allow readers to make your body of work move for themselves.

 

Christopher Bowen at Burning River Press

Sometimes, I tend to think of chapbook composition in terms of my culinary background. More specifically, menu design. In culinary school we were taught terms such as the workhorse, dog and star. A workhorse will consistently net profit over food cost, the dog will bring people in but will not net a profit and a star will actually cost you to keep it on a menu. But all three define a successful restaurant.

In terms of chapbooks, I think it’s best to understand the stories need to work as a whole and that yes, the reader will see it as this, as a journey. It should have its own climax, dialogue, even plot, between the writer and the reader—very much outside of the tangible stories themselves. That being said, I believe a fiction writer needs to decide where they will fit these literary elements into the story between themselves and a reader, not necessarily where the strongest, shortest, longest or even published story goes, but that simple dialogue of emotions. Does that make sense?

 

Randall Brown at Matter Press

Poets & Writers had a wonderful article by Katrina Vandenberg about organizing a collection using a mix-tape strategy here. I still create mixes for people (now using a CD burner)! Creating the mix focuses me on the experience of the listener, and I like playing with the juxtaposition of songs to create surprise and recognition. My 2013 mix, for example, bumps The National’s “Pink Rabbits” against “The One That Got Away” by The Civil Wars. The last line of “Pink Rabbits”—You said it would be painless / It wasn’t that at all—bumps up against The Civil Wars’ first line: I never meant to get us in this deep / I never meant for this to mean a thing. The National and The Civil Wars might be familiar bands to listeners, so what follows is a song from a more unfamiliar artist, Mark Mulcahy.

So that’s my suggestion, completely stolen from Katrina Vandenberg’s article. Create a mix-tape. Think of the listener moving from one track to the next. Think of where you want to take that listener, where the listener has just been, where the listener is going next. Create a lull to create a surprise. Just when the listener has the quirky pattern figured out, break it. Vary lengths. Mix it up. And then send it out the way you would those precious mix tapes, as something personal, not meant for everyone, but just the right person.

 

Gloria Mindock at Cervena Barva Press

A fiction chapbook of stories should already be in order and done when sent to me. If something would be better moved elsewhere in the manuscript, I will suggest it to the writer. I pay attention to the flow of the manuscript and want the first story to grab the reader. From that point on, looking at it as a whole, the order should make sense and make the chapbook strong. I look for unique and well written manuscripts. Surprise me!

 

Laura Stanfill at Forest Avenue Press

Putting a collection together can be a slippery, delightful, infuriating process, because there’s no such thing as the perfect order. Sure, there are ways to capitalize on synergies, ways to make themes crescendo, and ways to highlight the best pieces or hide the lesser ones. But there’s not one ideal order. And I kind of love that. Because it makes me even more determined to keep playing, to keep printing out stories and laying them beside each other, seeking meaning, discovering how two works change slightly in tone and temperament when they rub up against each other. A collection at first glance may have no theme, but look closer and you’ll find a sense of order, and that’s what to shoot for: making the flow from story to story seem intentional. Sometimes you can sneak two stories together because they share a similar image, or voice, and that likeness will resonate, will surprise, will delight–and sometimes you want to separate them to avoid emphasizing those things. Choose the order of pieces based on the bigger picture, the themes you want to pull out–and those you don’t want to emphasize–paying great attention to the first and the last stories, but also how the middle works, because every piece is as important as every other piece in a collection, and curating how they read one after the other helps give the reader a smooth journey from cover to cover.

 

Sumanth Prabhaker at Madras Press

This is such a case-by-case query that I’m having a hard time coming up with an answer that would be of any interest at all to your readers. I keep forming an opinion (don’t lump similar imagery close together, or establish a clear narrative arc, or whatever) and then remembering a hundred great books with lumpy images, no narrative arc, etc.

I guess in the end the issue of sequencing pieces in a manuscript is not terribly important to me. As you said earlier, a large part of the editorial process is determining the right order of things, and so it’s almost taken for granted that whatever order the MS is in when it’s submitted isn’t very important. Or, maybe more accurately, a manuscript will rarely be accepted because it was ordered in an interesting way. The determining factors, at least for me, are so much more about the quality of prose, the things the author’s mind gravitates toward, etc.

Beyond that I’d say it’s too hard to say. I like the way Infinite Jest is sequenced, but I also like the way cookbooks are sequenced — appetizer, protein, dessert, recipe recipe recipe…

 

Nate Jordon at Monkey Puzzle Press

The most important aspect of organizing and preparing a fiction chapbook, or anything that’s being considered for publication, is something most new writers take for granted: Make sure it is your best work. That seems obvious, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t submit their best work for publication? But I’m not talking about your best work. I’m referring to your best work.

I recently posted a blog on the Monkey Puzzle Press site that addresses this conundrum: 5 Debunked Myths about Getting Published Every New Writer Should Know. To reiterate, keep this in mind: If you’ve written something in a writing workshop, whether inside our outside the auspices of academia, and it received great reviews and applause from everybody sitting around the table, don’t think for a second that it is your best work. Chances are it’s not even yours. Odds are it’s an amalgamation of styles and influences from everyone around the table, as the work has been shopped and edited and changed and restructured, ad infinitum, resulting in a work that is a reflection of its environment, which may have nothing to do with your original voice, style, or intent. What works in a writing workshop doesn’t always work in the real world. Nothing trumps story. If you haven’t told a good story, developed good characters, and/or pulled the reader in emotionally, no amount of playful spacing on the page or fruity fonts will make the difference. That’s the kind of stuff that works in a writing workshop. What works in the real world is a good story, and a good story is original and unique. Make it yours.

 

Tyler Gobble at Magic Helicopter Press

Editing Meagan Cass’s chapbook, Range of Motion, which will be out in February from Magic Helicopter Press, was the first chapbook of the fiction kind I’ve ever had the joy to fall into. And wow, what a stellar one! Like I do with the poetry chapbook, I play the little brother role—asking way too many questions, sometimes saying things that are awkward and/or weird, usually being overly energetic, but ultimately, hopefully, making the family reunions totally bearable with the understanding eye contact, the shared loved, and hopefully some damn bubbly charm. With every chap, we go through similar steps: getting all the right pieces there, line-editing a time or two, and then ultimately the copy-edit goodness that really shines it up. With Meagan, despite not ever having met before, we danced in sync right through this thing, culminating in one of my favorite story collection ever, and for that, I couldn’t be more stoked for this thing to plop into this world.

 

Abigail Beckel and Kathleen Rooney at Rose Metal Press

Drawing the reader in: When you’re submitting a chapbook manuscript to a contest or reading period, consider the editors and judges as the most discerning readers you can imagine. Think about the things that draw you in as a reader, then amplify them and apply them to your work. Make the presentation and layout clean and organized, and most of all, make it impossible for the editor to move on to the next manuscript by putting your best story or stories first. Once you’ve got them hooked, they are more likely to give your manuscript more time and consideration.

Shaping your chapbook: All collections of short fiction and poetry, whether thematically linked or not, need to feel cohesive and of a piece. This doesn’t mean your chapbook needs to be linked thematically or narratively; it could mean instead that the manuscript has a consistent voice or tone or form or structure. Every year when we read our contest submissions, we always receive a set of manuscripts that feel like the author took every finished flash piece they had and dumped them into the manuscript pell-mell. You want your manuscript to feel (and be) more thought-out and planned than that. Even if the stories are all standalone, there should be a reason to put them together and an order that feels right. Tune in to the voice or emotional core of your pieces and create a story order that has an arc or crescendo. Editors and judges will notice that extra work and that the manuscript feels complete and purposeful.

***

If you have any great ideas for organizing collections, we’d love to hear from you, too!

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Bonnie ZoBell‘s new linked collection from Press 53, What Happened Here: a novella and stories , is centered on the site PSA Flight 182 crashed into North Park, San Diego, in 1978 and features the imaginary characters who live there now. Her fiction chapbook The Whack-Job Girls was published in March 2013. She received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in fiction, the Capricorn Novel Award, and a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award. She has an MFA from Columbia University, currently teaches at San Diego Mesa College and is working on a novel. Visit her at www.bonniezobell.com.

 

 

By James Claffey

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Chispas de Fuego

In the fall of 2008, as Hurricane Gustav approached the gulf coast I wrote my first piece of flash fiction in the conference room of the Old President’s House at LSU in Baton Rouge. It was the same room that had been the Southern Review editor’s office when Walker Percy met with John Kennedy Toole’s mother and she handed him the manuscript of A Confederacy of Dunces. The editor that day, Jeanne Leiby, was teaching her first class, “Forms of Fiction,” in the MFA program, and I was taking my first class in the same program, so it seems a set of events were set in motion that day leading me to the present moment when flash fiction comprises the bulk of my writing work.

Jeanne is no longer with us, having died months before my graduation from the program, and I left Louisiana shortly thereafter. What I took with me from the South was a world of writers and books I’d not known previously. Jeanne introduced me to the works of Mark Richard and Ron Hansen, and to Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, and to the watchmaker’s precision in crafting what she termed “short short” fiction. So, the primary reason I write flash fiction is because of Jeanne Leiby.

I also write flash fiction because of my wife, Maureen, who brought me back to writing after years in the wilderness of teaching high schoolers in San Diego. She gave me books by Jean Toomer, Bhanu Kapil Rider, and Anne Waldman’s Marriage: A Sentence, and these writers and more, in a way, showed me that there was a path other than the traditional, plot-driven, large-marketplace, and it was this revelation that gave me permission to abandon the A-B-C type of material I’d been creating, and instead give rein to my imagination without the aforementioned fetters.

Part of why flash fiction appeals to me has to do with my hectic work and home life. Teaching high school English to struggling readers and writers is challenging and much of the time, draining. And raising a toddler brings a whole new meaning to what it means to be busy. I carve out short chunks of time to write something down, sometimes only fifteen or twenty minutes, so the short form suits the time I have to devote to writing. But beyond any time constraint—it’s the ability to create vivid works of imagination where syntax and diction can be fractured with abandon—I love the possibilities available to the short-form writer.

There’s a challenge to creating a piece of writing in such a short amount of words, and in the challenge I find a great satisfaction. My writing is fueled by memory and time and distance, and those three constructs lend themselves to a fragmentary sort of storytelling. I often compare my flash fiction to a kaleidoscope, where the disparate colors merge to form magical patterns and with a quick twist there’s a completely new image in front of the eyes.

I am also a magpie, fascinated by bright, shiny objects, my desk a cluttered space of sand dollars, miniature lighthouses, paperweights, Mass cards, found rocks and objects that many times serve as the inspiration for a piece of writing. These objects are fire starters for the creative process; bric-a-brac that provides that chispas de fuego that propels a narrative into motion. It is in these objects and the sparks of creative energy they give off that I discover the short, world-in-a-moment flash fiction stories that I love to create.

Too, the form of flash fiction can be quite cinematic, the images drawn, scenes so brief as to be almost movie-traileresque. I’m hugely influenced by the movies of my youth and find myself re-watching Terence Davies’ movies, focusing on the musical soundtrack, the way the light hits a brick wall, the nod of a woman’s head as a man is about to kiss her. All of this opens the sluice gate of memory for me and in the rush of ideas that comes forth I find these fragments that I grasp and start writing about. Flash fiction, ultimately, is about finding your form, discovering the right angle with which to cut the diamond into facets, showing a world in a moment.

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Writer James Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA. He is fiction editor at Literary Orphans, and the author of the short fiction collection, Blood a Cold Blue. His work is forthcoming in the W.W. Norton Anthology, Flash Fiction International.

 

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