Archive for May, 2010

“This piece birthed itself out of frustration. I read a number of flashes on a writing site I belong to that had had titles like Slut-Whore or Killing Retards.” –Lucinda Kempe From “Outrageous Writing” below.  Caution: strong language.

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FLASHING ON Z

By Lucinda Kempe

I am writing. A sentence.  Then another.  Stop. Think. Ah, ha! More. Literally streams of words.  I am …new lexis. Yes, I’m composing with variety.  How marvelous: the sheer brilliance of the act. Now, where was I? Scripting language strings, lost in the evolutionary sea of me. Hooray! I am creating with verbs, adverbs, adjectives, nouns and prepositions. Boy o’ boy o’! Is this coming along or what?  Wait!  I ponder therefore I am. What? Focus now. I believe I can sense, no, feel, yes…push…push…harder…there’s the tuft at the top – another hot damn original sentence of mine.  Yes, – I AM BIRTHING ‘EM PLURAL.  And…I do it again, ditto, redux and ibid.

Oops! Lotta “I’s”. Excuse me. Pretend you didn’t see. [Nice! Second person.]

Let’s count the wonder; one hundred and twenty-five words. Wow-Oh!

Opening?  Hmmmm…

It was an obsidian and tumultuous dusk outside the rabbit hole when Bunnit B. heard a ricocheting sound.  He riveted his fur to attention, wriggled his toes in the three-inch pumps and danced the Sirtaki from “Zorba the Greek.”

Yep. Works.

What else? Ah, yes, titillation.

There was a pussy cunt sitting on the stoop outside of La Casa on the corner of Bienville and Charters.  She was hot and irritated.  If I see one more cock saluting and begging to find its way up my ass, I’m gonna sharpen Mama’s Sabatier and slice the tip of the son-of-a-bitch off, she thought furiously[catch that adverb!].

Oops! Better check the commas for the punctuationists, and the tenses for the grammarians.  Now, let’s make reference: Pinter, Ionesco, O’Neill, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Yates, Oates and Boats. Boats? Who the F?  Crappers!  Yes, a curse for the religious objectors and hold on, Pederast, Pedant, Prescient and Pedophile for the literati.

Am I done?  Aw shit, dialogue.

“Yes?”

“No!”

“You didn’t?”

“Nope!”

“Why not?”

“Didn’t feel good.”

“How did it feel?”

“Kinda cold.”

“Cold could be good.”

“Yeah, but she sneezed.”

Voila! Vunderbar.  Supreme.  Divine.  Weltanschauung.  Weltanschauung?  What the flying?  Never mind.  Wrap her up.  Brake, baby, I feel another sentence cuming (wheeeeeeeeeeeee) oooooooooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn!

Disclaimer:  None of this is based on anything I have ever witnessed, experienced, done, watched,  read or wrote. It happens by osmosis and I did not do it to the mouse.  In truth, the mouse did it to me and we have a happy union these days because he’s found a better hole to live in than his prior residence.

OUTRAGEOUS WRITING

This piece birthed itself out of frustration. I read a number of flashes on a writing site I belong to that had had titles like Slut-Whore or Killing Retards.  They had shocking language, but not much else in character content or story line other than the bold words.  Yet, little balloons kept appearing next to the author’s names, and a few other writers were cheering. Bravo! Dazzling! Daring etc…

The reactions were appalling. I began with a bit of satire, initially retaliatory, about the writing process. I pretended to be a highly self-regarded writer, and ended spoofing all sorts of writers and the process, including myself.

I thought about openings, titillation, language rules, pretentiousness, and dialogue.

Rereading FOZ, I paused at the zinger aimed at the punctuationists and grammarians. I neglected language rules early in my writing history because I was ignorant of them. One of my first critics advised, “Commas are your friends!”  Since then, I’ve grown as a writer and gotten to know, and almost like my “friends”.  Honestly, some of the errors in FOZ were mistakes I was blissfully unaware of at the time.

Oh, one last admission. Regarding the word Weltanschauung, I actually used it in one story for all the wrong reasons.  Seems I have a lot more in common with that other writer than I originally thought.

Finally, I composed a disclaimer for what else, fun.  “And that,” said Pooh, “is that!”

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Lucinda Kempe is a fifty-almost-two year old housewife, with two special-needs teenagers, an electrical Greek husband, a Rag Doll named Handsome, a common cat named Mitten K.T., and a very black Labrador named Comus.  This is her first public submission.  She hopes it won’t be her last.

Technically, I am a published author – but I don’t tell people that. Telling someone that you’ve been published inevitably generates the question, “What have you written?”  I’m a co-author of an article in Journal of Fish Biology.  When I explain that, most people respond with, “Oh,” and move on.  A few brave souls ask me the title of the article, but as I start to rattle it off, they get this vacant, confused stare.  So I don’t tell people that I’m a published author.

When you hear the term ‘published author,’ you don’t envision a geeky girl in a lab coat who spends her days staring into fish tanks.  You probably picture someone who looks both glamorous and disheveled, surrounded by shelves full of well-loved books, a old-but-functional computer, and a cat on her lap.  A ‘published author’ is someone who has written a book, the logic seems to say.

Of course, if you’re reading this, chances are good that you have some idea about writing, and you know that the stereotypes are just that – stereotypes.  In my office, I’ve got bookshelves full of books, and they are well-loved, but they don’t look like it – I feel the need to keep my books in excellent condition, so you won’t find any broken spines or dog-eared pages on my shelves.  My desktop computer is old-but-functional, but I don’t write with it.  I’ve got a shiny new netbook that lets me do everything I want to, including write from anywhere I am, since it’s small enough to fit in my purse.  There is not a cat on my lap.  I am not cat person.  They make me sneeze.  There is, however, a dog curled up beside me most of the time.  I have not had a book published.  Don’t get me wrong – I’ve written a book.  I’ve written four, actually.  Unfortunately, they were crap.  Does that mean I’m not a published author?  No.  I’m still technically published.  However, you’re not going to find me in your neighborhood Barnes & Noble.

So if I don’t refer to myself as a ‘published author,’ how do I refer to myself?  I used to call myself a writer, but the number of people who refer to themselves as writers seems to be growing.  It’s trendy to call yourself a writer, and I don’t want to be seen as someone just following a trend.  I have friends who call themselves writers, but who have not had anything of note published.  I have friends who call themselves writers, but who have had horrible prose self-published.  I have friends who call themselves writers, and who have had multiple pieces of short fiction published online.  I have friends who call themselves writers, and who have had actual books put out by reputable publishing companies.  Which of these friends are really writers?  All of them?  Only the ones who have had actual books published?

I like the way Rainer Maria Rilke puts it in ‘Letters to a Young Poet’: “This before all: ask yourself in the quietest hour of your night: must I write? Dig down into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be in the affirmative, if you may meet this solemn question with a strong and simple “I must,” then build your life according to this necessity.”

I think, then, that I am a writer.

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Danielle Thuen is an ophthalmic assistant by day, and everything else by night! A creator at heart, she can be found writing, knitting, crocheting, beading, scrapbooking, or cardmaking in her spare time.  She’s also an avid reader and movie buff.  You can read about all of her creative endeavors at http://daniellelanois.blogspot.com

Marshall Cook, in an online fiction class sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, suggested creating a feeling of “Not-Knowing” to draw the reader into a story.  On his FlashFiction.net blog, Randall Brown, in response to comments by Steve Almond, said “If a character knows something, the reader should know it.” Are these statements contradictory? Not really. Mr. Cook doesn’t advise not telling readers everything they need to know, nor does Mr. Brown say the reader needs to know everything up front.

Authors grab the reader’s attention by creating questions in the reader’s mind, questions that matter, questions that force the reader to continue with the story in order to find the answers. The inexperienced writer often poses the question and leaves it to the reader to figure out what happens. Many times this approach leaves the reader confused and unsatisfied. Even experienced writers leave out some important piece of information, at times. That’s not to say every story must end with a definite resolution; but that initial moment of Not-Knowing, the question posed that leads the reader to the story’s conflict, the reason why telling the story is important in the first place, should be made clear at some point.

Ethel Rohan’s story, “Reduced,” provides a good example of what I’m trying to say. In it, Ethel shows the reader a husband and wife in conflict. As the story progresses, the tension increases until the real problem is revealed. It’s at this point that Ethel shares with the reader that one piece of information that both characters know that explains the conflict created for the reader by that Not-Knowing. You can read Ethel’s story here.

In my brief experience as an editor, I find writers are good at creating the sense of Not-Knowing (although some take way too long to do so). It’s the sharing of information known by the characters that explains the “why” of a story where many authors fail.

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Flash fiction bewitched Jim Harrington in early in 2007, and he’s read, written, studied, and agonized over the form since. He writes about his personal writing journey at Quotes on Writing . His Six Questions For blog provides editors and publishers a place to “tell it like it is.” In his spare time, her serves as the flash fiction editor for Apollo’s Lyre .

Okay.  I’m writing this spur-of-the-moment because I  forgot to schedule a post for today!!  Oh NO!!  Not on purpose, but you know:  THESE THINGS HAPPEN even to type-A people like me.   I have some posts from our wonderful contributors I could have plopped in here, but I’m going to use this glitch to remind myself about best laid plans…

Glitches have been one of my many banes.  I hate being caught out in a mistake because I spend a heck of a lot of time focused on not embarrassing myself.  Bleary-eyed in the AM and accidently grabbing the Cortizone Anti-itch cream instead of  the tube of Colgate before I head into REAL LIFE with REAL PEOPLE, my mantra has always been “Just don’t bring shame down on your family.” 

Then of course I do.  I have a serious problem with foot-in-mouth disease.  That leads to a lot–and I mean a lot–of glitches.  Once we were shopping in New Haven, me, son, daughter, hubby.  I wasn’t all that impressed with the town, staying at a somewhat arm-pitty place out by a freeway (turnpike, whatever they call them back there).  Anyway, we were in a little shop, a resorty kind of store that carries  glass paper weights, banners with irises, dolphins up on their tails a la Sea World on a slab of lucite.  You know what I mean. 

I was trying to chat up the shop-keeper (God help me, I was trying to be friendly) and I asked her … wait.  I’m not going to say what I asked.  Something about New Haven.  You don’t do that.  People usually love where they live and even if they don’t, they will pretend to love it if you imply it’s less than sublime.   These kinds of  glitches in my brain are the worst.  I blushed, apologized, and immediately bought something plastic with a clock in its belly.  That was one way to deal.

But we all live with things that we say wrong, do wrong, and with the failings that happen to us through no fault of our own.  As writers, we deal with the glitch of a rejected piece of writing more often than not and it’s tough not to take it personally, to wonder if the person who is rejecting us knows something we don’t…such as we just aren’t that good. 

Rejections used to create major setbacks in my attitude about writing.  My reaction was to lose steam, pout, think about giving up writing for good and ever—and then be miserable because I didn’t wanna give it up.  Waah!

Removing a stiletto from my mouth and rejecting a tantrum before it starts seem like unrealistic aspects of my randomly-cobbled together self, but I’m working on it.  Working on it because in order to succeed at writing–at life–one has accept failure, rejection, glitches as something to get through the best one can, learning from the experience, and moving on.  What is that old saw, “Failure is not an option?”  Failure is too easy.  The bed is too soft.  Tivoed episodes of “Law and Order” too much fun.  Or so you think until you see that failure does not stop other writers who take a rejection, a glitch, a knock to the ego without much more than couple of tear-blinks and get right back to the keyboard. 

I guess I’m thinking about this because I received three rejections last week and also got bumped from a mentor program.  The bumping was no one’s fault, just a paperwork thing, but inside my glitchy-brain, I was back in the seventh grade, hiding in the bathroom stall because I had no friends and didn’t know where else to go and not advertise my aloneness. 

But wow.  I was so surprised.  This feeling lasted about two minutes because guess what?  I’m no longer in the seventh grade. 

Sure I was disappointed, but I didn’t take it personally.  Really I didn’t.  At least not after that first two minutes.  I could see how it might happen and more importantly I felt my efforts on this particular project were as good as most and therefore, the rejection–the glitch–wasn’t about me or my work.  Okay, so it might have been about my work, but I’m choosing not to believe that.  I’m choosing to create my own attitude about this glitch.  I can let it throw me or I can find the advantages to it.  And I’ve found many in this particular case, and the most important was that my project is what’s important, not my ego.  It’s my job to do the best I can and then with the help of others, do an even better job.   

So glitches happen and even though it is cliched to say it’s how we deal with those glitches that separate those who succeed from those who don’t, it bears repeating, especially in the arts.  We offer ourselves up every day to judgement, we strip ourselves of all pretense, and put our deepest most shameful secrets into the conmputer for every one to read and that is bravery.  And we will fail to connect with everyone.  But we will more often than not, connect with someone.  And it’s that someone out there we care about.

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Gay Degani is the editor of Flash Fiction Chronicles.  She was rejected four times last week and lives to tell the tale. Those who haven’t rejected her recently are 50 to 1,  Writers’ Bloc (Rutgers) , and  Emprise Review. Forthcoming in Litsnack, 10Flash, Crimespree, and Apollo’s Lyre.

Flash fiction saved my writing. Flash fiction killed my writing.

Both of these statements are true.

I was once convinced on a near atomic level that I was incapable of writing anything less than a full length novel. I took creative writing courses in college, and the short story assignments were, simply put, agony. An agony greater than dislocated kneecaps, insane roommates, or my fear of the cafeteria – all of which I was dealing with at the time. I could not see how the grandiose ideas in my head could possibly be contained in such a limiting format.

I have written several novels – sprawling epics and mostly finished ideas … I love writing novels. I love character relationships, landscapes to explore, geography to move through, adventures to embark on, etc. One of these novels is currently a single revision away from being submission-worthy, and yet … I have accomplished only a single chapter’s worth of said revision.

The novel was written for National Novel Writing Month 2007, and was my first experience with writing a book in a month. It was also my most obsessively planned and characterized novel, and my first experience using StoryMill (the Mac equivalent to Liquid Story Binder, I am told.) In 2007, I had never even heard of flash fiction.

After research into publishing options, I got very depressed about the future of my writing, and stopped almost entirely. It didn’t work. In August 2009, I decided to take my writing Seriously. I began daily writing exercises, and discovered Flash Fiction Chronicles … by way of what I affectionately refer to as the word-crumbs for writer-pigeons. After two weeks of practice with the prompts, I broke through that long-held conviction and developed a passion for the Flash form. I even wrote a few short stories. I was inspired, motivated, and excited about the process.

Flash fiction saved my writing.

In November of 2009 I attempted NaNoWriMo again, and it was a deeply unpleasant experience. I had to fight for every word, and hated every word I wound up with. The IDEA of the story is still pristine and lovely and on a clear crystal pedestal in my head. The act of manifesting that idea into a readable work is like mud-bogging without doors on the Jeep.

Fast forward to the final revision I need to do on my 2007 novel … only I am not reading it with an eye towards crafting a novel. I am reading it as someone who has been writing Flash for months. And now I hate it.

Novels have the space and time to develop ideas and relationships slowly, with a level of detail that (done correctly) can enrich the reader’s experience of the story. Novels are luxurious, they are bubble baths and four-course meals. Telling an effective story in under a thousand words requires tightness of language and clarity of word choice. There is a spartan quality to Flash that I find both comforting and awful. In writing Flash, I have developed an intolerance for the extraneous.

Without that tolerance, without the love of the language and the richness of the story, a novel cannot be. Revision of my novel has become an exercise in hack and slash – which is why I have stopped.

Flash fiction killed my writing.

And I have no idea how to find the middle ground.

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Tanya L. Schofield is the assistant editor here at Flash Fiction Chronicles, and blogs regularly at Blogging in the Dark.