by Aliza Greenblatt

Jamie Hittman

Jamie Hittman is a soon-to-be-graduate of the Queens College MFA program in Creative Writing. From a young age she was fascinated with both writing and medicine, and she plans to pursue a medical degree at the University of Maryland next year. “The Four Billion Year Birthday” is her second published story.

Aliza Greenblatt: I usually like to start interviews by asking the authors a little about themselves. What made you want to be a writer? Is your focus primarily on short stories? Does your background in psychology often influence your work?

Jamie Hittman: I wanted to be a writer because I loved being a reader. I started writing stories around age eleven, I think. I always had grand aspirations of writing epic horror novels, because that’s what I read day in and day out. I actually wrote two novel-length works while in high school, but they were pretty bad, as you might imagine. I only got into writing short stories relatively recently. I first discovered flash fiction while I was in college, and I loved it for its brevity and immediacy. You can’t mess around too much in flash fiction. Flash fiction is pure story.

I think my background in psychology has influenced my work in a general sense. I love learning about how people think and behave, but then, I think most writers do. One of the best things about fiction is the ability to get inside a character’s head. In film, you’re limited by what the director chooses to show you about a character, but in a novel or story, you can dig so much deeper. The reader is privy to everything: a character’s thoughts, feelings, motivations. And that’s so much fun.

AG: Can you tell me a little about your writing process?

JH: I live and die by word quotas. I try my best to write at least one typewritten page per day, which translates to around 650-700 words, single-spaced. I will often write more, but never less. The key is not to shut down before I reach my minimum. Consistency, I think, is the most important factor in writing anything. As long as you write every day (or even every few days) your story will get done. It doesn’t matter if it’s flash fiction or a novel. If you write consistently, you can’t not finish.

I write by hand in a spiral-bound notebook and then type the words up when I’m finished. I can’t write by computer. There’s something about having a delete key that brings out the worst of my perfectionistic tendencies. I will write sentences and delete them over and over again. For some reason I find writing by hand more forgiving. I can cross out words and scribble notes in the margins. I recommend writing a story by hand at least once, actually. It’s a completely different experience.

AG: Often with short stories, only a fraction of the infrastructure of the story makes it to the page. I think this is particularly true with speculative fiction pieces. How much world building did you do for this story? For example, did you have a cause for the death of Earth and what the new planet will be like when the settlers arrive? (You don’t have to give specifics.)

JH: I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, but since this story was so short, I didn’t do as much world-building as I normally would have. I had a number of causes for the death of Earth, and I can tell you right now that there were way more survivors than the Paradisus could accommodate. I’m sure some of the passengers were handpicked for the journey, while others bribed their way on. But that’s another story entirely. As for the destination planet, I know that it’s earthlike enough that recolonization would be relatively straightforward. Though I did consider what would happen if the planet were colonized already…

AG: From what I could tell, the people inhabiting the Paradisus are having a collective identity crisis. They are the generations in between the stars. Why isn’t the idea that they are the last of an endangered species enough of a reason to survive? Why do you think being on Earth gives people a sense of self-worth?

JH: I do think that self-worth and personal meaning are easier to find on Earth than on a spaceship like the Paradisus. On Earth, we don’t have to think about how little we mean to the universe at large. We have friends, entertainment, and personal aspirations. We set goals and we achieve them. And these things distract us from the idea that our individual lives, on a grand scale, are nothing special. Being born on a generation ship, knowing that the greatest contribution you will make is totally impersonal (not to mention completely involuntary) throws the reality of personal irrelevance into stark relief. Still, I’d say that most of the people aboard the Paradisus are happy with their mission to preserve the species. It’s people like Marian and Dr. Hauser—people who are searching for some other meaning in their lives—who have the most trouble.

AG: The spaceship where the refugees of humanity live appears to be a utopia, but yet it’s acknowledged by its builders that it’s no place for people to live. Why is that? Is it the lack of obstacles (disease, natural disasters, etc.) that make the Paradisus so uninhabitable?

JH: That’s absolutely a part of it. NASA actually put together a report back in 1977 called “Space Settlements: A Design Study.” And it’s this incredibly involved treatise on everything that a space settlement needs for its inhabitants to be happy. According to the authors, engineers have to take care to avoid turning the settlement into a dreamlike environment where “every wish can be fulfilled by a push-button.” Otherwise, the inhabitants could enter a state of mind where they believe nothing is real but themselves. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s definitely food for thought.

AG: What other projects are you working on now? Are there other stories of yours, either upcoming or published, that you can point readers to?

JH: I only started submitting work recently, so I don’t have much out there yet! My first short story, “Forces of Gravity,” was published in the online journal Bird’s Thumb back in January, so you can check that out if you’re interested. I’ve also just completed my master’s thesis, which is the beginning of a novel. The story is nowhere near done, though, so finishing that up is my next major project.

AG: Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us. Best of luck with all your writing endeavors.

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Aliza profile-pic-2

Aliza T. Greenblatt works in a firmly non-writing field when the sun is up and writes under a desk lamp at night.   Fueled by a sheer love of books and a tyrannical imagination, she writes the stories that appear over her morning coffee and won’t leave her alone until they are put down on paper.   She writes, raves, and blogs at http://atgreenblatt.com and on Twitter @AtGreenblatt.

by Susan Tepper

Lexi Lerner

Alexis Hope Lerner is a violinist, composer, and biology nerd from New Jersey. A student at the Manhattan School of Music, she has been a prizewinner in multiple national and international competitions. When Lexi is not practicing or composing, she can be found in her high school’s Environmental Science Center (where she hangs out with the turtles) or watching movies with her cat Marie Antoinette. Lexi dreams of becoming a virologist, a film composer, an explorer, or some wonderful combination of all three. Next year, she will be attending Brown University as part of the 8-year Program for Liberal Medical Education.

Foreigner
by Alexis Lerner

Twenty feet from the left entrance of the Port Authority was where the man called home.

Around him was a semicircular buffer zone enclosed in broken bottles, shielding him from Manhattan’s noisy sea of taxis and commuters.

In his coat pocket: a blunt razor, half a comb and 87¢. No cardboard sign. He didn’t want pity.

He was more a grizzly bear than a man. A mother of four walked by–a swan with trailing cygnets. She huddled them into her arms’ nest. -Don’t get too close, children, or he might bite.

Through cataract-riddled eyes, the man saw the smallest break from the group and skip towards him through the snow. A six-year-old princess with Mary Janes and a mink hat. She accidentally kicked over a bottle.

“Excusez-moi. Voulez-vous un ami?”

Is she talking to me?- He grimaced, sinking deeper into himself. Only his bulbous nose and coarse beard showed between his hat and scarf.

She smelled like sugar cookies. Warmth. Safety. Protected by youth, innocence and socioeconomic status.

He hated her.

He heard a zipper; then the mother’s boots quickly clacking against the sidewalk. She snatched her daughter’s hand, hissing in a foreign tongue as they retreated.

The man lifted his gaze. In the child’s open knapsack was a teddy bear just as grizzly as he was–beady eyes yearning, disappointed.

He sighed and looked up past the Port Authority overhang, past the Times Square skyscrapers, and into the endless grey space, hoping to see some ultimate good there.

 ***

Susan Tepper: Your story takes place outside of a somewhat controversial NYC landmark. How do you feel when you enter it, or walk by it?

Alexis Hope Lerner: On Wednesdays, I intern at a recording studio in the city; to get there, I take a bus in from New Jersey to the Port Authority. Usually I have my headphones on and am planning out the long work day ahead as I go down all of the escalators and pass the various shops and cafes on the first floor: Starbucks, Au Bon Pain, Hudson News, etc. The Port Authority entrance is almost completely glass, and what I see – every week, without fail – rocks me from my complacent state. People with untrimmed beards and dirty faces, wrapped up in wooly, musty blankets, create little islands for themselves on the thick sidewalk in front of the building. To me, it is astounding how many commuters – including myself – look past them as if they were part of the urban landscape itself. It is unfortunately too common a sight in the city – especially at the Port Authority – to see the homeless in public places in broad daylight. We become numb to what is around us, and that is what I am most afraid of. The distraction of daily life allows us to look past the hunger and pain that is often right before our eyes.

ST:  In a surreal sense, the homeless, the grifters, the addicts that populate the area around Port Authority are ‘foreigners’ as compared with the lives of the day-to-day people who use the terminal strictly for transit.  Interestingly, you have given real ’foreigners’ entry into this story.  Why not just some average Americans?

AHL: I agree with you in that the homeless are certainly “foreigners” within the Port Authority environment. But the other foreigners there are not the people whom we might expect. The fact that the French family is not native to the area does not necessarily render them “foreign” to the Manhattan sentiment towards the homeless. Actually, the only true outlier in the story – at least to me –  is the little girl, and that is for reasons other than her nationality. The point is that callousness towards the homeless is an international epidemic. Even the people we would expect to be foreigners in this story’s microenvironment – those who live across the world from the Port Authority – fit in all too well.

ST:  All too true. Did you know ahead of time that you would make them French (or other than Americans), or did this just strike you as you moved along the keyboard (or paper) writing?

AHL: I always knew there should be a language barrier between the little girl and the vagrant because I wanted her intentions and character to be clear beyond her words. The idea of making the family French, specifically, struck me as I was writing; it stemmed from the fact that our perception of French culture is often tagged with a romanticized view of its “poshness”. Consider how we view Coco Chanel, Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton… or even how we idealize the concept of being a “starving artist” in a beautiful Parisian flat, eating baguettes and sipping on hot cocoa in cafes and boutiques.

ST:  As in the famous opera La Boheme.  Which didn’t end well either.

AHL:  There is a certain sense of unattainable charm and glamour associated with French culture, which many Americans covet. But when I visited Paris six years ago, I saw firsthand a surprising number of homeless men and women sitting on steps outside of bakeries and museums. Even if Paris is the “city of love”, it is not exempt from the cruelties of reality. That realization affected me deeply and was integral to this story. Although the vagrant views the family as swan-like and elite, the mother’s ugly feathers show when she huddles her children away from him and turns a cold shoulder – a behavior that breaks our romanticized view of foreign culture. Even the most posh and beautiful of us can be ugly on the inside.

____________

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 2013, 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

by Jim Harrington

jimharrington2

Markets Added

NOTE: We are in the process of verifying all the links on this list. If you notice a market missing, it’s because the site no longer exists.

View the complete markets list here. http://www.everydayfiction.com/flashfictionblog/flash-markets-2/

View the complete resources page here. http://www.everydayfiction.com/flashfictionblog/resources/

______________________

 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 Andrew Stancek

Andrew Stancek

In Bratislava in the sixties I used to run down to the banks of the Danube, gather the flattest stones, and then watch them jump, three-four-five hops, across the surface of the water. The river is wide but its flow is fast and its character changes every day. As a teenager I regularly skipped school to breathe in the river and skip stones. I dreamt of adventure, about my path down the river to its mouth, and I made up stories — about even the stones.

Much water has flown since, along the Danube banks. Almost fifty years later I sit at the edge of Lake Erie, skip stones and weave stories.

About three years ago, I sat at the computer, revising an unwieldy tale full of moans, when a hooligan called me by name and said, “Come, let’s do a little slumming. We’ll have a blast.” His name is Mirko and in that first story, rooted by the Danube, which he impatiently shared with me, he is thrown out of home by his mother and handed over to a father only marginally more responsible than he is. Mirko, as teenagers are wont to do, pushes all the buttons. His last words on leaving Mother are, “You’ll bail us out, won’t you, sweet Mami?” Mirko’s attention span is extremely short and so was his story. He came, he told, he departed. His story was flash length and he helped center me in that genre. He and I have now shared with readers about thirty of his misadventures. I’ve discovered other narrators, other tales. But he came, unbidden and insouciant, certain he was fascinating and the brevity was a part of his charm. I immersed myself in reading the masters of the genre and experimenting. I was blessed immediately with encouraging editors. And while I continue to wrestle with long stories and a novel, I return to flash time and again, feeling its demands, rhythms and cadences. While a chapter of a novel, or an eight thousand word story leads me through peaks and valleys of huge disappointments before closure, I find creating a piece of flash liberating.

The flat stones I used to skip across the surface of the Danube have their stories told by Mirko and other narrators from Bratislava. I continue to skip school in order to skip those stones. I am thankful for the chance to tell them, for the visits of Mirko and Muses with other names. One could do worse than be a skipper of stones, a conductor of flash.

 ____________

 Andrew Stancek grew up in Bratislava and saw tanks rolling through its streets. He now writes, dreams and entertains Muses in southwestern Ontario. His work has appeared in Tin House online, Every Day Fiction, fwriction, Necessary Fiction and Pure Slush. He’s been a winner in the Flash Fiction Chronicles and Gemini Fiction Magazine contests and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. The novel and short story collections are nearing completion.

 

by Aliza Greenblatt

JC Towler

J.C. Towler, the second place winner in our String-of-10 contest, is in the market for a gently used Time-Turner or Transmorgifier. He has been an editor at Every Day Fiction since 2010, but wears more hats than you could possibly be interested in knowing about.

 

Private Lessons
by John Towler

 Orderlies barged through the entrance of triage, dropping their litter on the table with an unceremonious bump.  The wounded soldier reeked of the battlefield, burnt gunpowder and mud.  Her left arm dangled like a pendulum in decline, blood running down fingers traced chaotic patterns on the once white floor.

I performed a rapid assessment of her injuries, as Costas snipped away uniform remnants.

“You safe now…” He paused over her name tag.  “Private Gomez.  Estás seguro.”

He hooked her to a cardiac monitor then brushed a few strands of hair from of her staring, unresponsive eyes.

Dr. Kerns marched in, razor creases and polished shoes rivaling any rear echelon four-star.  A stateside doctor on voluntary rotation, he’d tried to join every branch of the service but kept getting four-f-ed over because of mole-like eyesight.

“Report.”

“Two thoracic GSW’s, through and through. Bilateral pneumothorax.  BP’s dropping.”

Kerns peered down at chest of the dying soldier through Coke-bottle glasses.  His nose crinkled in disdain.

“Those are exit wounds.”

“Apparently.”

“Running from the fight, no doubt.”  He poked at the injuries.  “She’s done. Save the effort for someone deserving.”

“Sir, this soldier has a rhythm.”

He grabbed her chart began writing.

“Injuries incompatible with life,” he said.

Orderlies returning with another wounded soldier interrupted my possibly career-ending reply.  A platoon sergeant followed behind.

“Gomez in here?” he asked.  I nodded.

“Do your best for her,” he said.  He jerked a thumb at the wounded man.  “She was carrying him.”

***

Aliza Greenblatt: Congratulations on placing in the String-of-Ten Contest! Can you tell us a little about how this story evolved? What were some of the challenges of writing a 250 word story?

JC Towler: My brother, Blake, just retired from a military career (24 years in the Navy and Army).  One of his assignments had him flying medevac choppers on a tour in Iraq 2.0 and he’s a real hero.  So the military was on my mind. I work with several women in my primary job (law enforcement) and while things have come a long way, there are still a few social Neanderthals – like Dr. Kerns in the story – who have some reservations about women in “men’s jobs”. It all coalesced into the theme and plot of Private Lessons.

Flash is a challenge because you’ve got to incorporate all those elements common to any sort of creative writing that make a reader want to spend time with your words. A 250 word story is just four times more challenging to write than a 1000 word story.

AG: You’ve been an editor for EDF for several years as well as a dedicated fiction writer. What do you think is the key to writing an effective flash piece?

JCT: Be interesting. Your title must be interesting.  Your opening sentence must be interesting. Your characters must be interesting.  As long as the reader is interested, they’ll stick with your story short of an unexpected natural disaster in their immediate vicinity. But even if their reading is interrupted by a natural disaster, your story should be so interesting that, as soon as they pull themselves from the rubble or find high ground to escape the rising flood waters, they should get back to turning pages.

AG: What I find interesting about this story is there’s a pivotal moment where several characters’ life courses are going to be decided. One is obviously Private Gomez and the others are the doctor and the narrator whose decisions could be career shattering. Being that you didn’t have a lot of time (in terms of word count) to build the story, was it a challenge to find the correct balance of tension and information to bring that moment to life?

JCT: Yes. First draft: 517 words.

The narrator wound up losing the most time in the story, but in some ways the loss became a gain. Less defined (to the point where even the gender is a bit ambiguous) the narrator is more of a shell that the reader fills in with their own personality. It’s like telling a story in the 2nd person without the force-fed “you” point of view. It’d be hard to do with a longer piece, but with flash it worked okay.

AG: There is the theme in this story of the people who seem to have honor and the people who actually do. The doctor should – and appears to have it – but it’s the nameless narrator and the private who make the honorable choices. Do you think the doctor will change from this experience? Will the narrator?

JCT: For the doctor, probably not. There are a certain people in this world whose egos will not allow them to accept personal error or admit to bad judgement and a large percentage of that group are represented by politicians, Fox News Personalities, and surgeons.

I hope the narrator would be more assertive the next time something like this happens, but as a subordinate to the doctor in both military rank and in the operating room hierarchy, it would be tough. Laws protecting whistleblowers are completely inadequate and in reality when somebody is faced with “doing the right thing” the “right thing” takes a back seat to career, family, and reputation.

AG: I’m always curious what drives writers to become writers. Why do you tell stories? What keeps you writing? What type of stories do you prefer to write?

JCT: I’m principally a fantasy and science fiction guy (which is odd in that both times I’ve placed in the String-of-Ten contest, neither piece has been in that genre). Honestly, my writing has taken a back seat to work, family and my second job as a videographer.  I’m very visually and sound-oriented, to the point that when I write I have to remind myself “Don’t forget the other three senses” and video work appeals to me because those are the primary mediums of expression.  (My latest effort is about the rescue and rehabilitation of a hummingbird.  You can watch it here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jTyU_P0n4o)

AG: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.

JCT: Thanks for the questions.

__________________

 Aliza profile-pic-2Aliza T. Greenblatt works in a firmly non-writing field when the sun is up and writes under a desk lamp at night.   Fueled by a sheer love of books and a tyrannical imagination, she writes the stories that appear over her morning coffee and won’t leave her alone until they are put down on paper. She writes, raves, and blogs at http://atgreenblatt.com. and on Twitter @AtGreenblatt.

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