by Aliza Greenblatt

Joanna Bressler

Joanna Bressler was a dancer, therapist, researcher and professor. She has graduate degrees in psychology and epidemiology. Now she writes, edits and babysits her grandkids. Her short fiction and memoir pieces have been published in EDF, Trapeze, Flash Fiction Magazine, Persimmon Tree, AARP Bulletin, New Age Journal. As far as writing goes, she revises too much. She’s insanely grateful to EDF and its readers for giving her work such a boost.

Aliza Greenblatt: From your bio it seems you’ve worn many different types of hats. Do your professional interests often find their way into your fiction? Did your background in psychology influence The Throwback Girl?

Joanna Bressler: Everything finds its way into my fiction. Try as hard as I do to keep certain things out, in they come, often carrying a shotgun.

Epidemiology is a sure fire influence on my writing.

Diseases fascinated me way back in childhood. I had measles the winter I was ten and read Microbe Hunters (diphtheria, ticks, tsetse flies, malaria, rabies, yellow fever, syphilis) by flashlight under the covers while still miserably sick. My parents discovered me at about 3 a.m. After a whole lot of incredulous eye-rolling and head-shaking, they confiscated the flashlight.

In my epidemiology M.P.H. program, which I allowed myself as a reward for the struggle I went through twenty years earlier getting my Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, I learned gorgeous disease words like infectivity, pathogenicity, virulence, sputum cytology, herd immunity, case fatality rate.

Later on these words entered my fiction.

For example, I was having trouble with the male hero of a long story. He was too passive, too awkward, too distant, too defensive. A real wimp. I was at the point of hitting the delete button when I thought to give him a pronounced limp from childhood polio. Two pages on childhood polio flew into the story and in the process my hero became downright lovable. And not just to me, to the heroine of the story as well.

Characters do come alive in my stories when I make them sick.

Psychology, my day job forever and then some, is a big influence too. I try to blame it and not me for everything interminably boring in what I write.

The major influences on my writing, however, are the writing classes, workshops and critique groups I’ve attended during the past two decades. As with all influences, these include the good, the bad, and the ugly. But mainly I’ve been very lucky. Many terrific teachers and generous fellow writers have helped me learn to write.

AG: When you sit down to write a new story, what is your process like?

JB: O.K. Here goes.

I came home late one night and my door key got stuck in the lock. Neither I nor a night-owl neighbor could budge it. I had to go sleep over at my daughter and son-in-law’s apartment and be very quiet about it because they had a new baby upstairs.

I was almost asleep on the couch downstairs when, not the new baby but this girl in my brain, woke me with a barrage of complaints about her mother, her father, her sister, her doctors, and how she herself was being forced to climb a horrible trail to some stupid place her mother liked.

She talked on and on and I didn’t know her from Adam but finally I felt honor bound to pry my eyes open, rummage around for paper and pencil, and write down what she was saying. It took everything I had but I got most of it and then about two hours of sleep.

In the morning, once the new baby woke everybody up, I found under the couch seven moderately legible pages in which a story was hiding. The new baby, my younger grandchild, had his 8th birthday the month and year (September, 2014) that EDF in its infinite kindness accepted a much more coherent version of those seven pages.

I really, really, really wish that this was my typical writing process. It is not.

Typically I believe that each new idea will be my last and is not very good anyway. Typically I have to search desperately for viable characters, plots and settings. Typically, to paraphrase Paul Simon, I know fifty ways to leave a laptop.

Often I consult the Rune stones from Scandinavia as part of my creative process. Earlier today, for example, I drew a rune stone from my little blue velvet bag to help me figure out what exactly to say about my writing process other than it being a complete shambles.

The pattern on the stone I drew was a lopsided cross. It stood for, get this, “Constraint,
Necessity, Pain.” I thought, “Uh-oh, this can’t be good. What does it even mean? How could the rune stones do this to me?” Only then did I realize that these three words pretty much nail my typical creative process to the wall.

AG: One of the things I enjoyed most about this story is the slow reveal of the narrator’s character – which is not an easy thing to accomplish in flash fiction. Was the pacing something you struggled with in the story? What were some of your favorite parts of the story? What were some of the most challenging?

JB: I’ve never heard that phrase “the slow reveal of the narrator’s character.” Thank you, Aliza, for introducing it to me.

O.K. When I brought the first draft of this story to a critique group, people thought Alicia was not a human being. Well, I did think she was a human being.

Getting her to that place where most readers could agree with me took so many revisions that it’s still embarrassing. Through them, however, I managed to soften Alicia without losing her true voice. The softening appears in the late middle and at the end of the story. I’m thinking perhaps that’s what you mean by “the slow reveal.”

One of my favorite parts was the Wizard of Oz metaphor. I’ve had to watch that movie maybe ten, fifteen, times with this little girl I know, my older grandchild. I felt pure glee when it fit so easily into the story.

The most challenging part was every word after Alicia pushes Mindy into the stream.

AG: The tension between Alicia and her mother is quickly established in the story. She’s constantly giving examples of her mother’s inability to see and accept Alicia for who she is. But by the same metric, do you think Alicia was perhaps also misjudging her own family in the same way?

JB: Mainly I see Alicia as an adolescent. In my opinion, it’s an adolescent’s job to misjudge their family, probably so that they can separate from it without feeling a terrible loss.

AG: Aside from unfinished novels, what else do you like to write? Do you write many flash fiction stories or is this new territory for you?

JB: I’m not a real fan of writing unfinished novels.

And I feel compelled to add that I do have one still in the works. I just can’t seem to advance the plot. I can’t even find the plot. Perhaps I’ll get back to this novel on my death bed. Rear up, wave my arms wildly, scream out, “Aha! ‘Sister Clare leaves the convent and marries the Chief of Homicide.’ Please, somebody, write that down this instant.”

For now, I’ve switched over to fine-tuning several of my short stories (ranging from 100 to 8000 words) for submission. I don’t submit very often so this is proving to be a challenge.

On the subject of flash fiction, a beloved aunt of mine who was an artist once made me two elegant little paintings with her own maxims embedded in them. “Lose Not Thy Marbles” is one; “Hasten Thy Story” is the other. They hang above my desk. Writing flash fiction keeps me true in the moment to both maxims. My aunt would approve.

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

JB: Post-Mortem Exam was posted in Flash Fiction Magazine on June 26th. Two other stories are in EDF. Some funny tweets are up on Trapeze Magazine. And, as I just hinted, a veritable meteor shower of stories is on its way running.

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

JB: Thank you, Aliza, this was exciting for me. I love your work. It’s wonderful having you give such thoughtful attention to mine.

__________________

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 Dr. Suzanne Conboy-Hill

Suzanne Conboy-Hill

Some while ago Walter Giersbach (Hook Your Readers) wrote this:

Advertising copywriters insist that a good poster capture the attention of a commuter dashing to catch the 8:05 train. That’s a tough chore—almost as tough as grabbing a reader in the first 30 words of your short story. The grabber is the narrative hook, an intriguing opener that makes the story impossible to put down.It better be good, because an e-zine RSS feed may give the subscriber just that 30-word teaser to invite a click-through.

And I wrote this:

Openers tread a fine line between unselfconscious intrigue and the dangling lure crafty old pikes are going to give a wide berth. It’s probably horses for courses, but I prefer an intro that doesn’t make me feel I’m being hooked.

Silly me, should have kept my mouth shut. I’ve been challenged to expand.

Luckily, after some thought I find I still agree with myself but I have had to take apart the rationale for that and also consider what it means for people who aren’t me because it turns out there’s quite a lot of those.

If we stay with the metaphor of lures and hooks, we know that there are different kinds for different fish—what catches a trout won’t (so I imagine) snag a pike. I think that extends to opening lines or excerpts too because this is not a one-way process. It’s interactive, and we need to find the right line for the right reader.

Many stories are published in a genre context, and so we already know what kind of content is coming. When I go to Clarkesworld, for instance, my head is geared to science fiction and fantasy, and so it’s ready to deploy my stock of SF/F references. But where there is mixed content or multiple feeds, this context is missing, which makes those openers or excerpts critical to engaging the attention of a receptive reader.

I wondered then about a catch-all formula and I recall a writer (whose name escapes me but may have been Steven King) saying that the opening paragraph should a) introduce the main character, b) contain an action, and c) deliver a piece of dialogue. A handy template, which I think has merit because it at least stops you from stuffing yards of exposition and scene-setting into it, and you can ‘season to taste,’ as it were.

My concern with templates though is first that they can so easily become rules, and second that attending to them risks drawing attention away from the purpose of the exercise. In this case, the purpose is initially to alert the right reader to the right material and once there to have them ‘read ready’ very quickly by establishing the contextual references—dystopia, humour, SF, literary, are they supposed to ‘get it’ or is ‘getting it’ not part of the contract? That sort of thing.

I think if we ignore targeting and fail to give potential readers what they need in order to be ‘read ready’ for our material, we run the risk of missing the right readers and disappointing the ones we pull in. For instance, anything beginning: ‘The thing in the swamp licked the blood of its last victim from its fangs and surveyed the lone house in the distance where the last man on earth sat shivering,” is pretty much not going to be a romance, unless the author’s next paragraph goes, “Sharon put down her horrible horror book, turned on all the lights, and hugged John’s pillow – oh why did he have to be away on her birthday?” and how would we know? So while it may be a well-baited hook, it won’t be a very satisfactory one for the gore-fest aficionados who bite on it. Of course, if we knew and trusted the author[1], we might have followed the teaser anyway and been rewarded, but if we did not, we and everyone else looking for a romance piece would miss it.

Flash asks a great deal of the reader; it is succinct in the same way as poetry, it tends to focus on the essence rather than the detail of a story, and it is part of the deal that the reader brings something of their own into the reading of it. It may not be fully closed, more ‘openly closed’ as Elaine Chiew has it[2]. It is also permitted to ‘start in the middle[3]’ which I think makes the title a critical part of the lure, and I wonder how much consideration we give to this before we saddle our protégés with a clever word salad and send them off.

So the beginning is not necessarily the beginning and the ending is not necessarily the end, which means those first few words have a very big job to do. I think that job is not to draw in anyone and everyone but to engage the interest of the right reader for the piece and to prepare them, to help them find the right set of mental references, for what is to come. That done, it’s up to us whether we throw a fine gauge net, blow a circle of bubbles, cast a line with fancy dancing feathers on the end, or drop a chunk of raw meat into the water.

***

1. That said, all that Rowlings is not Potter, as we now know.
2. Elaine Chiew, Endings. In Short Circuit, Gebbie (Ed) Salt Publishing, 2009. P188
3. David Gaffney, Get Shorty: The micro fiction of Etgar Keret. In Gebbie, op cit. P173

____________

Suzanne Conboy-Hill is a past psychologist, present writer with publications in Every Day Fiction, Zouch Magazine, Ether Books, and Full of Crow amongst others. Website: http://conboyhillfiction.wordpress.com/

by Jim Harrington

jimharrington2

Markets Added

Resources Added

ONLINE CLASSES

Thanks to Angela Rydell for providing the initial courses on this list.

Contests

Tethered by Letters’ Fall Literary Contests

We are currently accepting submissions for our short story contest (1,000 to 7,500 words, open genre), flash fiction contest (55, 250, or 500 words), and poetry contest (max of three pages per poem). TBL strives to publish writers with engaging stories, vivid characters, and fresh writing styles. All winners will be published in Tethered by Letters’ Summer 2015 Quarterly Journal. All finalists will receive free professional edits on their submission and be considered for later publication. The prizes are $250 (USDA) for the short story winner, $50 (USDA) for the flash fiction winner, and $100 (USDA) for the poetry winner. Winners will be announced publicly in November. Multiple entries accepted. International submissions welcome. Good luck to all our authors!
Deadline: December 15, 2014
Prize: $250 for Short Story, $50 for Flash Fiction, $100 for Poetry
Entry Fee: $10 per Short Story; $4 per Flash Fiction OR $10 for three Flash Fictions; $5 per poem OR $12 for three poems
URL: http://tetheredbyletters.com/submissions/contest-submission
Contact Info: Joe Reinis, jreinis@tetheredbyletters.com

View the complete markets list here.
View the complete resources page here.

______________________

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 Sarah Crysl Akhtar

Sarah AkhtarI’ve nothing against the gangrenous undead or a serious bloodsucker (as opposed to those vampires who appear to have gotten lost on their way to a Calvin Klein photo shoot). But when I want something to really scare me off to dreamland–the kind of story that’ll force me out of my warm cozy bed to check the doors and windows one more time–I’ll take the shredded wallpaper and that nice etching. Or a sandbar on the Danube.

The really terrifying stuff is what you don’t see. The greatest horror writers don’t hit you over the head with a bloody bucket of chum. They unlock doors to primal human emotions and let you have the fun of trying to wrestle them shut again.

Stories I think essential to every horror lover’s collection include Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, M. R. James’s The Mezzotint and Casting the Runes, and Algernon Blackwood’s The Willows. They’re oldies, all right–but they haven’t lost any of their vigor.

All four tales are masterworks of psychological terror; only in  Casting the Runes is actual blood spilled. But not in front of us.

Over the years, The Yellow Wallpaper has been a darling of feminist scholars. Gilman, who had her own unpleasant run-ins with analytical types, doesn’t require interpretation and is best enjoyed straight-up. Her heroine speaks for herself just fine.

Too much contemporary horror writing seems like sadistic versions of the shaggy dog story. A little mayhem is fine. But when authors keeps tossing bodies in various stages of dismemberment at me, my blood stops curdling.

One of my favorite stories on Every Day Fiction does involve a horde of the undead closing in on two hapless victims. Check out Willow Road by Lindsey R. Loucks. You’ll see why I couldn’t get it out of my head.

____________

Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s shtetl forebears gifted her with the genes that impel her to make much from little. So of course she writes flash fiction, cultivates orchards on her windowsill and bakes fabulous shortbread. Her son gives her what’s immeasurable–the best of all possible worlds. Less miraculous fruit of her labors has appeared on Every Day FictionFlash Fiction Online, 365tomorrows and Perihelion SF Magazine.

 

by Angela Rydell

Angela Rydell

Want to shine a light into the inner workings of your flash fiction? Plenty of online courses help fiction writers strengthen skill with craft. But most teach fiction fundamentals, or divulge the secrets to writing The Great American Novel. Only a handful focus on that crazy little thing called flash fiction. Which are they? Below you’ll find a survey of five of the best online courses out there devoted exclusively to making your flash writing tighter and brighter.

WOW! “Flash Fiction Workshop”
Course Description: http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/classroom/GilaGreen_FlashFictionWorkshop.php
Instructor: Gila Green (http://www.gilagreenwrites.com/)
Start Date/Length: October 27th 2014, 8 weeks
Fee: $175
Additional Links: Find out more about WOW here and more about their classes here.

“Wow” isn’t just an exclamation of admiration—though there are some spectacular testimonials for this workshop. It stands for “Women On Writing,” an organization that employs successful women writers to teach meaty workshops (and offers great contests). But you needn’t be of the feminine persuasion to take the course.

This eight-week class is of the tailored one-to-one variety. The instructor emails a lecture each week to a group of approximately 8-10 students. The email includes examples, discussion, feedback and an assignment. Writers respond to the weekly assignment, which builds on the one before. So it’s not the kind of class where you write a story or two per unit. Instructor Gila Green says it’s designed to help you develop “a small flash into a full flash week by week and prepare for publication simultaneously, so that at the end of eight weeks you have a full, critiqued flash and a publication plan.”

While there’s no official discussion board or critique forum set up, group discussions/critiques may be initiated via email by the instructor on a case-by-case basis, if “a particular piece can benefit from group critique and…the group is advanced enough that the critique will have a positive effect.”

The focus here is on quality one-on-one time and deep revision, and that means student satisfaction is high. Green adds, “…many participants tell me that they are thrilled that finally someone is telling them how to fix things, not just what needs to be fixed. This doesn’t mean I write any materials for them, but I do try to focus on the how, the range of possibilities to get you where you’d like to go. I also include a focus on publication mid-way through the class, so that participants have a realistic idea of what is out there and what the current editorial demands look like.”

Writers.com, “Flash Fiction: Writing the Short-Short Story”
Course Description: http://www.writers.com/henning.html#henning
Instructor: Barbara Henning (http://www.writers.com/henning.html#henning)
Start Date/Length: January 5th 2015, 10 weeks
Fee: $340
Additional Links: Check out other creative writing classes online with Writers.com at http://www.writers.com/welcome.html and http://www.writers.com/about.html#writers.

This ten-week class is currently underway (it started Sept 2nd). Fortunately, it’s offered multiple times a year. Future start dates are January 5th and April 5th, 2015.

Expect plenty of bells and whistles. The fee includes lecture/blackboard (with interactive links), plus optional pdf readings, and some meaty material on theories of short fiction. You’ll receive both instructor and peer critiques, participate in an ongoing discussion of the readings and assignments, and write a lot—up to 9 one-to-two page stories (with an option to submit revisions in lieu of new work).

But you needn’t get bogged down. Instructor Barbara Henning says, “The student can put as much time into the course as she might like, either simply working on the assignments or also following the links and pdfs provided.”

Look forward to a lot of interaction, a mix of experience levels, from beginning to published writers, and a class size of five to fifteen students. Barbara adds, “The course can function as a workshop on flash fiction, an introduction to fiction writing craft, as well as a more advanced course in ideas about writing fiction.” A nice bonus: Barbara teaches this very class in an MFA program.

Fish Publishing Online, “Flash Fiction Writing Course”
Course Description: http://www.fishpublishing.com/flash-fiction-course-info.php
Instructor: Mary-Jane Holmes (http://www.fishpublishing.com/flash-fiction-writing-course.php)
Start Date/Length: Enroll any time, complete in 3 months
Fee: Around $323 at current currency rates
Additional Links: Read an interview about the course on Cafe Aphra Blog at http://cafeaphrapilot.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/interview-with-mary-jane-holmes-of-fish.html

Whether you’re from across the pond, America’s heartland, or elsewhere in the world, distance learning makes Fish’s flash fiction offering (based in the UK) accessible to all English speakers. Take ten modules at your own pace over three months. Though there’s no discussion, Mary-Jane Holmes, course instructor, encourages “an open dialogue, even outside the reviewing of set pieces.” Plus, “many students use the Fish Publishing Facebook page as a way of connecting and for discussion.”

This course will keep you busy. Each module includes up to four assignments and preliminary exercises. You’ll submit all assignments for feedback, which may include one or two completed stories (up to 300 words in length). You’ll receive a detailed critique of each exercise, and have an opportunity to rework and resubmit. Holmes adds, “Our one-to-one approach means we really get to grips with each individual’s writing style and from here can help work on developing their strengths and ironing out the weaknesses; a class orientated workshop can’t always afford to be so specific.”

The pièce de résistance? Your final story will be entered into the Fish Flash Fiction Prize (the contest fee is included in your course fee). And that’s not all. Holmes says participants “also have a chance to be published in the annual anthology (and there is some prize money too!).”

The Eckleburg Workshops, “Small & Mighty! Short Short Fiction”
Course Description: http://eckleburgworkshops.com/product/short-short-fiction-small-mighty-april-2015/
Instructor: Meg Pokrass (http://megpokrass.com/)
Start Date/Length: April 2015, 4 weeks
Fee: $110.00 (now on sale at $90.00)
Additional Links: Look into other Eckleburg Workshop goodies at eckleburgworkshops.com

The low price, distinctive visual presentation, and small class size are big draws for this offering. It caps at six students, give or take, depending on instructor discretion. Founder and Director of The Eckleburg Workshops, Rae Bryant, says the low numbers mean “a level of one-on-one attention that students rarely find in campus and online workshops.”

How much writing do you do? You’ll stay busy. In four weeks, you write four new flash fiction stories. But there’s more than just writing. The course includes “online lectures, discussions, workshop forum and individual feedback from both instructor and peers, as well as an ongoing student profile, access to the alumni listserv and publishing opportunities board.” Yeah, that’s a lot of bang for your buck.

There’s plenty of material, but you can pick and choose what you’d like do, and spend anywhere from a few hours a week to full days on course material, exploring the options and interacting with your peers. Plus, they’ve sidestepped the traditional blackboard model and custom-designed their own platform. If it’s anything like the eye-candy on their website, you’re in for a treat. Another bonus: “The online visual structure of the course makes it easy to read and respond to weekly discussions via your smartphone.”

What else makes this course unique? Bryant adds, “The Eckleburg Workshops are a place where talented writers and extraordinary instructors share space and focus with other individual voices. We offer a venue where these voices can shed the boundaries too often placed upon literary writers in particular niches or programs. The student’s organic talent and exploration of that talent comes first.”

UW-Madison Continuing Studies, “Fiction in a Flash: Art of the Very Short Story”
Instructor: Angela Rydell (https://sites.google.com/site/angelarydell/poetry)
Course description: http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/classes/online-fiction-flash-art-very-short-story
Fee: Level 1 $125; Level 2 $155 (details below)
Start Date/Length: Enroll any time, complete within a year
Additional Links: Find more UW-online offerings at http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/writing

This course caters to writers who like to take their time in a flash. It’s the most “open schedule” of all the offerings here. Expect low pressure and high value.

At your leisure, log on to UW-Madison’s server to access each unit’s lecture/blackboard material (written & taught by yours truly). Each unit is chock-full of stories by contemporary flash writers, analysis of their work, craft tips, links that expand on tricks of the trade, and writing exercises. The spotlight is on one-to-one feedback from your instructor (yes, moi). There’s no discussion or critique forum, but instructor interaction is encouraged: send me questions unit to unit or chime in on my Instructor Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/AngelaRydellInstructorPage). You’ll also receive email updates that inspire you to put pen to paper. And if you want more structure, I can take on the role of taskmaster and help you follow-through with a submission plan that’ll keep you writing.

How much writing will you do? Level 1 writers write up to five stories, Level 2 writers write up to eight. You’ll expand from six-word stories to 1000 worders. That expansion includes revision techniques, and you can always submit a revision of an earlier story in lieu of a new one.

I specialize in tailoring feedback to your needs, and ask, up front, if you like your critiques mild, medium, or hot. Challenge yourself or take it easy, it’s up to you! Receive supportive comments that help you identify what works, grapple with challenges, and delve as deep as you like.

As a bonus, you get access to an extensive appendix featuring dozens of model stories online, direct links to flash markets looking for new work, tips on preparing your work for submission, plus a list of reliable websites and revitalizing prompts that’ll help keep you writing long after you’ve finished the course.

Okay, that’s the long and the short of it.

Know of other good courses? Please post a comment and share what you know.

Thanks to the directors of the programs, and the instructors, for providing such helpful info on the courses.

____________

Angela Rydell is a poet, novelist, short fiction writer, and writing instructor. Her stories and poems have appeared in journals both in print and online, including The Sun, Indiana Review, NANO Fiction, Flashquake, Crab Orchard Review, Alaska Quarterly Review and elsewhere. Angela’s flash fiction has won the Portland Review’s inaugural Flash Fiction Friday contest, was a finalist in the American Short(er) Fiction Prize and Passage North‘s Neutrino Short-Short Prize, and received honorable mention in the New Millennium Writings Awards Flash Fiction Contest. She’s currently a judge for NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction challenge 2014. Angela lives in Madison, WI, where she teaches creative writing courses in UW-Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies, including the online workshop Fiction in a Flash.

 

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