Archive for June, 2011

by Rumjhum Biswas

Hema Raman loves Flash Fiction. This is her favorite writing form, and she uses it even when she works on her novel, writing little pieces that could stand very often on their own, except that she’d rather they added up to the big story. She did not receive specific training in flash fiction, but Hema Raman is a certified creative writing trainer, having attended workshops conducted by The British Council. She was also one of the chosen few who attended renowned American author Paul Theroux’s creative writing workshop conducted by the US Consulate in 2008. She has won awards for her creative writing, notably, the CBA’s regional prize for Asia in 2007, first prize for the Katha India Currents Short Story Award in 2010 and the first prize for Sampad-British Council Creative Writing Contest in 2010.

The novel in progress was commended by ‘The Literary Consultancy’ in the contest held during the 2008 Jaipur Literary Festival. Her stories, mostly flash fiction, have been published in anthologies in India and abroad. Hema Raman draws her creativity from a wide repertoire of interests, including nature. She holds a post graduate diploma in garment designing and manufacture and apart from being a management consultant in Bangalore and Sri Lanka; she also designed and sold clothes under her own signature brand Kaavya. She began writing during long evenings away from home on work, when she had only her laptop for company. Today, less than a decade later, Hema is still busy, with her little daughter, the numerous creative writing workshops she conducts in the city, her writing groups, and of course her writing.

Q1) you have won international awards in short stories, including the Commonwealth Regional Prize for 2007. Can you tell us a bit about your flash fiction writing process?

My writing process starts with an idea when I get a flash of something and jot it down. Once I start writing I always tend to write down the entire piece of flash fiction at one go. I then put away it away for a week or two. When I come back to it, I rewrite quite a bit and put it away for some more time or dump it in a faraway corner called WIP (Work in Progress) which I visit only when I am very optimistic. Rarely, when the story does not need any rewriting and for those stories that I have rewritten, I start editing and keep at it until I hear that satisfactory click like a pen cap closing. I hope that was clear. Maybe not, but I guess that’s it.

Q2) what are the difficulties and advantages you face as a writer when working on flash fiction? Is flash fiction your favorite form?

I started with flash fiction and it is still one of my favorite forms though I don’t write as many of them as I used to. The main advantage I think for those like me who don’t write much poetry is that flash is a way to explore those epiphanies that just must be written down. Writing them down satisfactorily gives me the kind of immediate gratification that longer pieces cannot. The disadvantage is that being shorter it kind of cheats you into believing it is easier, but for a flash fiction to really shine the editing takes really long.

Q3) when do you normally write flash fiction? Do you write during a break from your longer works?

I write flash when I get an idea that I need to capture before it escapes me. Some of them get swallowed by the novel that I am writing while others that get completed become my flash fiction pieces.

Q4) Do you carry a scribbling pad with you for flash (and also poetry)?

I don’t carry a scribbling pad except when I am travelling. Usually I note down my ideas on the computer in a folder called story ideas. I have tried writing it down on paper but mysteriously I find them crumpled and in the dustbin with something else written or drawn over my idea. When I try to hide the scribbling pad, I waste too much time just searching for it.

Q5) what is your favorite time and place for writing? Give us a peek into your writerly routine.

I write in the mornings when my daughter is at school and late into the night when she is fast asleep. I prefer to write on the desktop in the small alcove in my room.

Q6) which writers inspire you? If you have any short story/flash fiction writers in mind, even better.

I like the works of Anton Chekov, Edgar Allan Poe, Ernest Hemingway, Roald Dahl, Saadat Hasan Manto and so many more.

Q7) Do you have any favorite flash fiction piece or writer in mind?

I can read Chekov again and again so I guess he is my favorite.

Q8) what do you consider a great piece of flash fiction?

I expect any great piece of fiction to move me and/or change my perception about something.

Q9) Do you have any advice for aspiring writers (of flash fiction)?

I believe good ideas and hard work translates into Great fiction. It is not as dreary as it sounds and is sometimes so enjoyable that you can get drunk on the pleasure that you get from your own words. So I’d say go for it and keep at it.

Q10) what are you working on now?

I am working on my novel and of course the occasional flash that just happens.

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Rumjhum Biswas is a writer based in Chennai. Her official blog is Writers & Writerisms.

by Michelle Reale

FFC: Heather, I have admired your work for a long time! “Good Country. People.” Was so clever—really a delight and though it is not flash fiction, I had to nominate it for our Top 100 list.    I love that it is a play on Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People.”    Tell me about the genesis of this story and what I assume to be your  obsession with O’Connor.

HF: Thanks so much.  The story originated from a solicited request from a fiction editor to take the last line of a story, new or old, and write a new story for Necessary Fiction’s January 2011 First Footing project.  I believe I had about a month’s advance notice. I applaud Steve Himmer for his editorial decision to run a month of such stories—and was excited at the prospect of working with a story I love, in this case “Good Country People” by O’Connor.  Though I’d cracked her collected stories when I heard about the endeavor, I didn’t know I’d be working with that particular story as I began, but I did know I was under the gun for getting it done, and that since this was solicited, I’d have a great chance that what I wrote would be published, so the choice of who to play with was almost too delicious to fathom! I promptly decided I would shoot for the moon!  (Flannery is my personal moon, you see!  Of course, Flannery, my beloved Flannery!  I need to calm down.)

Though I’m well aware that I’m not the only writer who lights continuous votives in the honor of Ms. O’Connor, I’d venture to say my obsession with her was (and is) more like a full-blown love at first sight that lasts twenty years, replenishes the heart each time it’s seen, and is never diminished. I now flashback to that first look, that geeky time in glasses for a chubby, nerdy, self-conscious and sassy writer type, myself in corduroys, maybe in seventh grade or so, when I first came across “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.”  The grandmother cracked me up.  June Star was my idol.  I wanted to immediately find Flannery and make her my favorite aunt or family friend.  I laughed aloud.  I re-read passages to myself because I loved them so much.  I suddenly wanted to go to Florida, or decide I never did.

This was also the beginning of my love for Southern literature and an  interest in many things Southern.    In the end, however, my love for that story and its perfection was too strong for me to want to adjust it in the slightest.  There was, however, one story that pissed me off every time I read it: “Good Country People.”  How could a man take a girl’s leg and leave her up in a barn?  Oh, the image haunted me for years.  Thus, it’s almost like the moment for a new reverie was at hand in the exact second I reread the title.  I’m going to get you cruel boy, I thought, beat you bloody senseless.  And so it began.

FFC: What were the challenges in getting that “deep south” sound in the story?  You pulled it off perfectly , by the way!

HF: Thanks and what an astute question!  There were a few dialect challenges because not all parts of the South have the same sound.  Also, I wanted to mimic the style of Flannery as well as the region.  What I did in an effort to get as close as I could was to read and re-read her stories, one after another, noting what slang she used and how she produced dialect—and where she didn’t.  I allowed myself dialect she herself had used.  I let the sound of her sentences sing in my head until I could hear them humming in my subconscious as I wrote.  I looked at her structure.  I had great fun with this.

FFC: Treble Ann is a great name for a hilariously devilish character. I would not want to meet her in a dark alley!  She seems to alter space—both literally and figuratively. She seems imposing physically and attempts to outwit everyone.  Did you have a clear physical representation of her in mind when you wrote the story?

HF: When I wrote the story, my thought was: Flannery’s whole piece is a commentary on true goodness vis- a -vis “Good Country People,” rebellion, pseudo-intellectualism, repressed sexuality, and the way society decides “good” versus “bad?”  Treble Ann was the direct result of my decision to create a character who could one-up the irreligious Bible salesman, who played by her own rules, who could be bold and ruthless enough to not allow this con man character to indulge his fetishism with her suffering.  I wanted to make her disability part of her armor, wanted her strong and seemingly indifferent, with a wicked sense of humor and a lack of need to be socially acceptable or “good.”  Her “goodness” would not be her downfall.  She’s already an outsider, I thought, so let’s make her a pugilist.  Let’s make her a girl who will not be victimized and will knock the  bejesus out of this man so shifty his real name is never revealed in Flannery’s story.  Let’s take the bad man/boogie man down, I decided.  With humor.  Like Flannery is so good at.  Welcome, Treble Ann, I thought as I created her.  You have a job to do.

FFC: Treble Ann’s trouncing of the boy salesman felt wickedly good.   Justice for smart, but dumb Hulga?

HF: Why, yes.  And for every other woman who reads it and has wanted this guy’s character pounded, but good, for ages.

FFC: How many drafts did this story go through?

HF: Oh, several.  I worked on it compulsively, and then I re-read Flannery’s piece, and then I worked on it some more.  It has already gone through two additional drafts since its publication, but these are minor, mainly just for sentence beautification and flow.

FFC: Have you written other stories as a play on other well- loved authors, or is this the first?

HF: I love to play with others.  I have done so many times.  Recently, I had a piece in Ampersand Books’ Re:Telling Anthology called “A&P, Come Again,” that retells Updike’s famous story “A&P” from the girls’ perspective.  I’ve written a pair piece for Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” and one for Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings: A Tale For Children.”  I like to respond to the work of others, but am careful not to do that exclusively—because I like to work on my own plots and themes.

FFC: To say you are prolific is putting is an understatement.  Talk about your process and the way you move from fiction to poetry and back again.

HF: You know that chicken with its head cut off that stumbles about the yard before it keels?  How the blood just kind of splatters where it will? That’s my ink.

But, I’m happy any time I’m creating.  Whatever I’m creating.  Fiction is usually my first love, but poetry I go to in times of need.  Whatever I’m writing in the very moment or second always simply feels like what is needed.  I can’t write a love poem when I’m thinking dystopia.  Similarly, I can’t write dystopia when I’m thinking: “Ah, that’s so gentle and lovely!  Let’s poem it!”

FFC: Your collection of stories Suspended Heart was recently released by Aqueous Books to tremendous reviews. ( I own it and love it!)  Tell me how that feels.

HF: It feels great to have a book out.  Aqueous Books has been a joy to work with in all capacities.  I am quite delighted, too, to now have something my mother can show her friends and that I can give to colleagues.  I also love that I’ve decided to give the whole first year’s proceeds, in entirety, to my elected charity.

Still, the concept of having a book as book object is very surreal to me.  Oh, delightful, I have a tome!  And how strange!  Wait, delightful!  Previous to this book, I had already published probably two to three books worth of single-serving stories—and now have six to eight manuscripts for which I need to start seeking homes—but it’s still quite grand to have my first actual book come out of the gate and land where readers can purchase it.   I am overjoyed, but I am quite simple in that the largest excitement I derive from this publication still comes from the excitement and joy reflected by friends and family at this new success, as well as the heady and interesting experience of new readers addressing 300+ pages of my work—and coming from out of the woodwork to remark that they’ve read what I’ve written.   That’s a thrill.  It’s like my words have entered a larger echo-chamber now.  I’m still kind of small and shy in the bigger room, though–wondering how I got here and glad just the same that I’ve arrived.

FFC: You have Flannery O’Connor in a room with you.  She stares at you.  She smiles and tilts her head.  She has read “Good  Country.  People.”   What do you think she is thinking?  What would you tell her?

HF: I think she is thinking: All right.  All right.  But could you have brought in more of my devout Catholicism?

And I am thinking, in reply: I knew you might have been thinking that, Flannery, but can we focus for a moment upon how I pummeled your derelict salesman?  That was good, wasn’t it?

She laughs and doesn’t bother to explain herself.  And then maybe she asks if I want some sweet tea, wearing that fabulous expression she so often wears that looks both like you left a dirty diaper in her car and like she would like to ruffle your hair.

Because she is wily, I smile and nod, fearful she will think I am a blathering idiot—which will probably create my own speech as replica as soon as I open my mouth.  I want to speak.  But I’m having trouble speaking as,  “Tea?” she asks again, lifting one eyebrow, looking at me like I have considered the initial question for far too long already and she is about to sweep me out.

At this point in the exchange, I am pretty sure she thinks me somewhat dim-witted rather than just awed by her, delighted by her, and an unfortunate yet hellacious blend of a person who portends to be  both ornery and shy in the shakedown.

So, of course, I tell her, “Yes.  Tea, please, ma’am.  Thank you.  My throat was so dry I could hardly speak….  Say, can I see the geraniums?  Are they here?  Oh, never mind if it’s too much trouble.  The Misfit—can we talk about the Misfit? But, tea.  Yes.  Sorry.  Back to your question.  Yes.   Tea.”

Hey, it’s Flannery: What do you think I’d say? “Yes. Yes, and yes.”  I would always tell her yes.

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Heather Fowler received her M.A. in English and Creative Writing from Hollins University. She has taught composition, literature, and writing-related courses at UCSD, California State University at Stanislaus, and Modesto Junior College. Her fabulist fiction has been published online and in print in the US, England, Australia, and India, as well as recently nominated for both the storySouth Million Writers Award and Sundress Publications Best of the Net. She was Guest Editor for Zoetrope All-Story Extra in March and April of 2000. Fowler’s story, “Slut,” won third prize at the 2000 California Writer’s Conference in Monterey. Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, was recently featured at The Nervous Breakdown, poeticdiversity, and The Medulla Review, and has been selected for a joint first place in the 2007 Faringdon Online Poetry Competition

Check out Heather’s website !

Here is information about her collection Suspended Heart from Aqueous book.

Read “Good Country. People.”

view

by Erin Kelly

In his piece, “Hat Trick,” Barry Friesen allows readers to spend a sweltering  Fourth of July with an impatient father and his newly defiant son. The piece was the top story in May for Every Day Fiction, with readers describing it as a charming, sweet and nostalgic piece that offers a “good portrait of life” inside the relationship between a brutish father and his tender-hearted son. In less than 850 words, Friesen takes us on a compelling and emotional journey through anger, discomfort and compassion.

Flash Fiction Chronicles caught up with Barry Friesen to ask him about this piece.

FFC: When you started writing this piece, did you know how the story would end? Do you typically sketch out your flash fiction pieces before you start writing?

Friesen: I’m so spatially dyslexic that I need a trail of bread crumbs to find the bathroom, so I get lost in the dark forest of story too easily. I have to light a candle at the ending first, or I’d never get out of the forest.

This was my first flash for the Flash Factory; I’m far more used to longer stuff, where I do a lot of sketching first, yes. Flash is so short that I liked being able to keep it all in my head for once, no sketching.

FFC: Based on the comments that followed the story, the ending was taken a lot of different ways. I found that the ending completely changed the dynamic of the story in a deeply personal and moving way. What was your intention with the ending?

Friesen: The father-son dynamic is loaded with conflict naturally, I think, so a story resolution for that needs a brushstoke of some kind of tenderness to convey a mutual acceptance. I hoped the hydrogen balloons, and the father’s willingness to be easygoing about their being tied to the three hairs on his bald head, accomplished that. But readers (and one EDF editor) suggested that trope be seeded at the top, and I think they’re right.

FFC: What is your goal as a flash fiction writer? What do you hope to convey?

Friesen: I’m not happy with my stuff until it makes me cry or laugh. If I’m moved by it, I figure some readers might be moved, too. That’s all I want–the moving moments.

FFC: What do you find uniquely satisfying about writing flash fiction versus longer-verse prose?

Friesen: Very fun to try to tell a complete storyline in such a short space, but tough! Like dancing in a phone booth. For me, it’s like living indoors when I’m not really suited for that.

FFC: In your opinion: What are the elements of a strong piece of short fiction?

Friesen: I’m an emotion-fiend; I want to be blown away by the emotional impact of a story. Short fiction seems more suited to the delight of word-play and delicious images, but a strong, short drama still needs a solid conflict, stakes that count, emotional risk–all that. It’s all about personal taste, though.

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Barry Friesen is a former psychotherapist and child protection lawyer and playwright who has been published in New Plains Review, Flashquake, SnipLits and The Toronto Quarterly. He has three sons — a novelist, a screenwriter and one who has legitimate work.

By Shelly Frome

Like any venture, there are certain factors at play before considering a virtual book tour. Assuming, of course, the goal is to improve your “platform” beyond your friends and acquaintances on Facebook, etc. and your fans at the local bookstore. The first step then is to determine your niche; otherwise , the success rate via this particular promotional tool becomes more problematic.

In other words, given the feedback you’ve received from editors, reviewers, others who’ve encouraged you, book groups or what-have-you, what are the chances your latest work will instantly appeal to a wide range of readers and increase sales? Moreover, how does this effort of yours potentially measure up? If we’re talking about fiction, among the standard categories are story collections and anthologies of all genres, mysteries and thrillers, horror, romance (contemporary, historical, time travel), science fiction, fantasy and the like. If your work is literary and/or falls outside any typical genre, the marketing prospects dwindle. The manager of any given tour may have some difficulty setting up a number of stops because each and every site is geared for readers of a certain kind of book and even a certain kind of author.

By the same token, this yardstick applies to nonfiction as well. Even if your work fills a significant gap, it still has to center on topics like social, political and religious issues, parenting, struggles with addiction and relationships, how to reinvent yourself during the downturn in the economy, pitfalls and strategies in starting your own business and so on and so forth. Because, no matter how you look at it, the realities are that online marketing is set up for special interests.

And that, as they say, is just for openers. A tour runner may tell you that readers from all over the globe log on to just about anything, you’ll get access to top search engines, coverage in prestigious online publications and exposure to millions of book buyers. However, on the basis of personal experience, all of this promotional hype should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. It’s true you’ll be asked to write a summary that will draw in readers that’s as provocative as an ad for a best seller plus a short promising bio. Hopefully your photo on a personalized tour page will enhance your chances. But everything rests on how attractive any of this will be to potential hosts. Simply put, the hosts who operate these sites are looking for guest posts that are especially apt and compatible.

Next, assuming you’ve cleared this initial hurdle, there are other things you should keep in mind. More often than not, once you’ve signed on you’ll be sent a set of interview questions to accompany each scheduled stop. (Again, the number of stops all depends, along with the time frame of your promotional package.)  These questions, in turn, tell you a great deal about the personality of the host, the exact nature of his or her site and the types of books and authors favored. For example, take this sampling from a number of hosts from various national and international blogs:

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?  Which of your characters would you most like to invite to dinner and why? Is there a particular message you want readers to grasp? What books have influenced your life most? Who are your favorite authors? What books are you reading now? Are you immensely disciplined, writing a set number of words every day, or are there times when you can’t get started? Some authors claim that desk research is enough to get important details right or do you insist on firsthand research? If your novel were to be made into a film, which popular actor would be featured? What are you writing now and what are your plans for a sequel?

As you can see, these are all leading questions. Are you whimsical, expert, spiritual, old school, prolific or trendy enough to meet their criteria?

By the same token, if you happen to be the right kind of author you may find you’ve gathered a number of good reviews; if not, you may be in store for the exact opposite. As a case in point, a certain novel recently received high praise from a host in the U.K. while, at the next stop, the tour was canceled because the writing was judged to be sub-par—e.g., “sentence fragments were incorporated and in one descriptive passage the unfortunate phrase ‘in this neck of the woods’ was utilized.”

On balance, there is no telling what any of this will mean in terms of a spike in sales. Or how, say, an assortment of twelve interviews, fifteen interviews coupled with a majority of good reviews, one cancellation and two mixed reviews, plus two or more stops that never materialized because the site wasn’t updated will eventually play out. It’s also possible that a number of people who log onto these sites may be aspiring writers simply looking for tips.

On the other hand, there’s the opportunity to scan the interviews and the critiques   other guests have received who are trying to succeed along more or less the same path. The kinds of work they’ve done to date and the direction they’re heading in. In this ever changing pursuit, getting some clear idea how comparatively well you’re doing might just be worth the candle. If you’re willing to take the risk, that is, and have a keen sense of integrity.

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Shelly Frome is a professor emeritus of dramatic arts and an author of fiction and nonfiction. His latest is the trans-Atlantic mystery The Twinning Murders.

Interested in Shelly’s book The Twinning Murders ?  Check it out!

by Jim Harrington

Markets Page Additions

  • 69 Flavors of Paranoia (1,000, bi-monthly) publishes speculative fiction
  • Melusine (1,000, bi-annual) publishes works that explore the contemporary female experience
  • Silver Blade (1,000, quarterly) publishes speculative fiction

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Jim Harrington discovered flash fiction in 2007, and he’s read, written, studied, and agonized over the form since. His Six Questions For. . . blog provides editors and publishers a place to “tell it like it is.” He’s also the Markets Editor for Flash Fiction Chronicles’ Flash Markets Page. He can be contacted at jpharrin [at] gmail [dot] com.