Archive for October, 2011

by Joe Kapitan

Once in a while, I read a piece of flash fiction that really sticks with me. Scott Garson’s “Hourly,”  published online recently by Matter Press along with five other short fictions, is one of those stories, and it makes a great case study for the importance of word choice.

HOURLY by Scott Garson

They gave me a job at Halloween Town. Strip mall with vacancies. Sad. I was a wizard, vaguely swinging my wand. “Everything change,” I commanded.

This sophisticated and powerful story is only twenty-five words long, so each and every word carries four percent of the load. There’s no room for fluff or filler; each word has to have forethought, and a solid reason to remain there after the editing.

The first two words fascinate me—“They gave.”

First thought—why “They”? Third person plural is so detached and unfamiliar. Note that it’s not Uncle Johnny or the nice lady next door or any of the known persons that would usually help one locate a job. The reason for that detachment doesn’t become evident until later. And “gave”? The passive voice speaks volumes. The character didn’t “find” a job, “land” a job, or even “get” a job. No active voice verb here. The job was given, almost as if the character wasn’t seeking it and only reluctantly accepted.

I love how one word can paint a whole scene. Look at the word “vacancies.”  When I read it, I immediately picture a tired Midwestern city, its industries shuttered, its workers gone, streets of homes still up for sale, Halloween Town one of the few teeth remaining in the darkened, gaping frown of the beleaguered strip mall. So much mileage from that single word!

Most writers know that verbs are the engines, nouns are structural, and adjectives add layers, but adverbs rarely get any love. In Scott’s story, “vaguely” is a hero and does far more than its share. A different character in a different story may have swung the wand “fiercely,” “determinedly,” “hopefully.” Instead, our character goes through the motions. It’s such a portrait of resignation and defeat. Didn’t the Harry Potter series teach us that nothing good comes of half-hearted spell-casting? Without conviction, nothing will change in Scott’s unnamed town—not the “they,” not the “vacancies,” and certainly not the “vaguely-lived” lives of the people that are left behind.

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Joe Kapitan writes from a brick house surrounded by pines, southwest of Cleveland. From there, troublesome stories have escaped out onto the internet or into print. Like these: A Late Winter’s Conversation and “Art is Dead.”

 

by Jim Harrington

Market Added

  • The Laughter Shack (500, varies) publishes comedy in any genre
  • Lurid Lit ($, 500-1,000, unknown) publishes “literary equivalent of a good B-Movie”

Editor Interview Added

  • Cheek Teeth (1,000, monthly) open to all genres
  • Black Heart Magazine (1,500 & 500, weekly) open to all genre

Market Deleted

  • Dog Oil Press — declared “dead” market by Duotrope

Flash Fiction 101

  • Flash Fiction: What’s It All About — advice listing Dos and Don’ts of writing flash

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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. You can read his stories on his blog. He can be contacted at jpharrin [at] gmail [dot] com.

by Rumjhum Biswas

Nathan Rosen is NOT a physicist! (Though I doubt that would handicap him from writing a bite-sized piece of physics related horror story!) Nathan Rosen is a number of other things though–actor, singer, pirate ( a singing one!) , writer, editor, Notary Public and horrorist. In his own words, his skills and talents are strange ones.

Out of all these disparate activities or personae if I may call them that, we are concerned with specifically two. The editing part and the horrorist bit.  Put these two things together and you get Nathan Rosen the founder and editor of MicroHorror, the world’s largest free online archive of short-short horror fiction. In this interview, I invite you to sink your teeth into a lot more Nathan than his websites allow. One more thing, there are still a couple of more days to go before Microhorror’s Micro Horror Contest closes on –31st October is the deadline–so if you have a 666 word length horror piece, now is the moment to send it in.

Rumjhum Biswas: Do you believe in spooks and things that go bump in the night? Have you ever seen a ghost?

Nathan Rosen: I suppose that depends on your definition of belief. For that matter, what do we mean by “ghost”? I’m a skeptic and a scientist for the most part, and I’ve never personally witnessed anything that couldn’t be explained by mundane phenomena. I always keep an open mind, though; I’ll happily go on ghost hunts, and I’ve heard stories from others that have made chills run down my spine. I’m not out to prove or disprove anything.

RB: What is this thing you have about horror? Did anything horrifyingly scary ever happen to you?

NR: I’ve been fortunate enough to have never suffered any truly horrifying life experiences, and I suppose that’s part of horror’s appeal. It lets us feel those deep, visceral emotions without being in any real danger, and gives us a safe way to explore our own limits.

RB: Take us to the beginning of your horrific journey. Did you look for monsters under your bed as a kid?

NR: I was a coward as a child. Everything scared me. I’d run up the stairs in the dark and leap into my bed, certain that something or other was going to grab me. But despite all this, I was still fascinated by horror. For years I could be found staring mesmerized at lurid VHS boxes (remember those?). I was far too scared to watch the movies themselves, but I just couldn’t keep myself away from looking at those illustrations. (And speaking of illustrations, another great childhood horror influence was the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, by Alvin Schwartz. Stephen Gammell’s ink wash paintings are still terrifying.) But when I hit my teens, I decided to confront it all head-on, and discovered that I love horror and the places it can take your psyche. I’ve never looked back since.

RB: Tell us about the day you opened the crypt, when MicroHorror was brought to life.

NR: I wish I had a tale about some sort of demonic geas  that compelled me to create the site, but the truth is much more mundane: I was bored at work. I needed a little horror boost to get me through the day, so I looked for a site where I could read short-short horror online. I found micro fiction sites, and I found horror sites, but I didn’t find anything that would give me exactly what I wanted, so I decided to start it myself. Of course, then I had to decide on a word limit, and 666 pretty much came in a flash of inspiration: a useful number and a perfect gimmick, all in one. And so a legend was born.

RB: Who according to you are the world’s best horror writers, past and present.

NR: You certainly can’t go wrong with the old masters, like Poe and Lovecraft. If you’re any sort of horror fan at all, you need at least a solid foundation in these two. Nowadays, Joe R. Lansdale never fails to entertain me, and Bentley Little and Jack Ketchum are other favourites. I’d also like to give a plug to Michael Arnzen, who’s got one of the most wicked minds working in short-short horror prose and poetry today. Check his stuff out; you’ll never forget it.

RB: In your FAQs page you say, “Horror, I’ve come to believe, is particularly well suited to the microfiction form, and the best horror microfiction can be as brief and shocking as a punch to the stomach.” Can you give us some examples that best illustrate this, from MicroHorror and/or elsewhere?

NR: I found Stuart Hughes’ story “In His Own Way”  on another website, and it hit me so hard I had to track Stuart down and ask permission to reprint it. It’s not for the squeamish, this one, but it’s a perfect example of the power of micro fiction. In three short paragraphs it builds its weird atmosphere, and then ties it all up with a twist that recasts everything that came before.

RB: Many people are daunted by the prospect of writing horror. Should they be? Is writing horror that hard?

NR: Before you can write horror, you have to open yourself up to it, and that’s the hardest part. Each and every one of us has our own comfortable paradigm, and horror comes from outside of that. You have to take a chance and look beyond the things you know, and when you do that you run the risk of discovering literally anything. It’s difficult, and it’s scary, but I like to think that by pushing those boundaries horror writers are doing a service for all of humanity.

RB: What do you look for in a piece of horror micro fiction, apart from the fact that they should be no more than 666 words and of course “shocking as a punch in the stomach”?

NR: Like any editor, I’m looking for the new and original. That doesn’t mean I dislike stories about old familiar tropes, but I’d like to see them explored in unusual ways. I want good atmosphere, realistic dialogue and characters who are more than just props. And for my own tastes, I love twist endings– I’m a huge fan of the old EC horror comics. If you can twist a story well, and create an ending that brings the whole thing around without cheating, it’s guaranteed to make me smile.

RB: How often do you write horror fiction or poetry yourself?

NR: Not nearly as much as I’d like to, sadly. I’ll dash something off if I feel particularly inspired, but most of the time it’s more important that I work on MicroHorror. My most recent publication was a story in the first issue of Angel Zapata’s 5×5 Fiction.

RB: What mistakes do submitters commit that makes you want to drive a stake through their, well, not hearts, but manuscripts?

NR: For the love of the Old Gods, people, please take care with your spelling and grammar. The English language is the tool you’re using to create your stories, and no good craftsperson abuses tools. If a writer doesn’t care enough to proofread, I’m going to assume that he or she doesn’t care enough to write a good story, either.

RB: Please tell us which stories you liked best from the ones you have published since 2006 in MicroHorror.

NR: There are so many brilliant stories that if I started picking out certain favourites I’d be sure to miss others, and then everybody would feel bad. I’d rather hear other people’s favourites. That way I’ll know what stories people most want to see in the inevitable future book.

RB: Can you tell us a bit more about your horror spoken word albums?

NR: I love audio horror, and I love voice acting, so last year I decided to record two spoken-word horror albums. One contains my own stories, and the other is three classic short stories by Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce and H.P. Lovecraft. I had a lot of fun recording them, and frankly I think they sound great– a lot of credit goes to my engineer, Trevor Simpson, who was able to create some incredible sound effects on “The Statement of Randolph Carter.” Both of the albums are available on a pay-what-you-want model at http://microhorror.bandcamp.com/.

RB: Do you watch horror movies as well? Which ones are your favourites?

NR: I most certainly do watch horror movies, whenever I get the chance–like short stories, they’re designed to be taken in in one sitting. I’ve got any number of favourites, including Return of the Living Dead and (the original) The Wicker Man, which makes a perfect double feature with Simon Pegg’s Hot Fuzz. I love TV horror anthology shows, too, like Tales From the Crypt, and right now I’m watching Monsters, a late ’80s Canadian production. But the movie I evangelize more than anything is Phantom of the Paradise: it’s a glam rock horror musical directed by Brian De Palma with songs by Paul Williams. If that description alone doesn’t make you curious, I don’t know what to tell you.

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Rumjhum Biswas lives and writes in Chennai.

by Michelle Reale

Michelle Reale: Len, first of all you are one of my favorite flash fiction writers. Second, you are extremely prolific—lucky for your readers! How do you manage this?

Len Kuntz: Thank you so much. I really appreciate that. I’ve wanted to be a writer since age nine, so it’s very flattering and humbling to have someone like my stuff. I’m very lucky, because I retired from the corporate world about six years ago and now I write full time. I try to write every day. I try to get 2,000 to 4,000 words down, but that doesn’t happen very often.

Even though most people call me prolific, the truth is I’m kind of a slacker and should be writing much more than I do. Honestly. I mean, I have the ability to write all day, every day. I just fight what all writers fight—that subconscious which will have us doing almost anything—yard work, dishes—but write.

Michelle: How did you start writing flash fiction?

Len: I didn’t even know what flash was. I started writing seriously about two years ago. They were all 4,000 word short stories. I sent them to the traditional lit journals via postal mail—it was arduous, archaic and, I eventually realized, idiotic. Then I learned about the online literary community. I was fascinated.

It sort of blew my hair off. People like Kim Chinquee, Brandi Wells, xTx, Roxane Gay, Matt Bell and Meg Pokrass—they were the early ones who really inspired me, and I basically just studied the hell out of them, trying to learn the craft by reading everything they wrote and submitting to the places where they got published.

Michelle: You are a poet, as well.  Do you write in both forms concurrently or do you tend to concentrate on one over the other for a certain period  of  time?

Len: Actually, it just depends on what I’m reading at the time. Whenever I read poetry, I feel this huge surge to  compose poetry. Same with flash. Same with novels. When I write a novel, however, I have to consciously stop reading flash and poetry or it’ll pull me too far away from the bigger story.

Novelists are my heroes. Teachers, soldiers and novelists.

Michelle: Which form do you believe expresses what you want to say, best?

Len: Flash is my favorite. I like something sharp and tight, like getting a bullet to the heart, so that the person walks away shaking their head, feeling a sting for the rest of the day, if not longer.

Michelle: One of your predominant themes seems to be the body, which fascinates me. Stories such as “Thoroughly Modern Families,” “Skin,” “Motion Sickness,” and “Medicine and Meat” are incredibly inventive and vivid. How do stories like these come about?

Len: You picked some of my more bizarre pieces there! For longer stories, I usually have a theme or idea in mind. With poetry I find a line I like and just start writing. But I never really thought I had a fixation with “the body.” Maybe I do. Usually my central themes are about broken people, damaged families, abandoned or wounded children. All of the pieces you mentioned above cover those subjects. “Medicine and Meat” is a tough story (“You wouldn’t expect a little girl like me to have such a big penis inside her panties, but I do…”) about rape and vengeance. The body parts are sheer symbolism.

Michelle: Your micro piece “A Parent Your Own Age,” hit me in my solar plexus. I read with an eye towards poignancy. If there is suffering, I am sure to find it. I don’t want to pick apart the piece so much that the mystery and magic is laid entirely bare, but please talk about the writing of this piece.

Len: I wrote that at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop this summer. We were doing days of free writes. One day we were given a selection of titles, so I picked “A Parent Your Own Age.” Without saying too much, I know someone like the woman featured in the story, and so I tried to imagine what her life might have been like—all the raw tragedy—that eventually brought her to the polished, steely sort of way she ended up being as an adult. I think we all have had bad things happen to us, dark secrets and whatnot. I like to bring that to life. I don’t know why, exactly, but it’s the stuff I’m drawn to and that I find interesting. Happy stories don’t do a thing for me.

Michelle: “Happy Campers” made me squirm. You so nailed those types of conversations where people who love each other often have: passive aggressive with anger pulsating just beneath the surface. Does the “chick squirrel” really want the “red-faced curmudgeon” to choke to death in the woods?

Len: Maybe. Well, yes and no. Some spouses have that love/hate thing, don’t they?

Michelle: I have been fortunate on many occasions to receive incredibly kind kudos from you on my work and encouragement to go further. You are a wonderful presence on Facebook and you always have something nice to say to everyone—you are incredibly supportive. Tell me how the online writing community of flash fiction writers inspires you and how it has changed and/or influenced your writing.

Len: Well, Michelle, you’re a fantastic writer. Really, you are, so it’s easy to tell you that. As writers, we’re so lucky to have this incredible community to associate with. It makes the world small. And I love all things writerly. People like Sara Lippman, Meg Tuite, Robert Vaughn, Nicolette Wong, Cheryl Gardner—they’ve really gone out of their way for me and what’s impressive is—with the exception of Sara—I’ve never even met them. I always feel compelled to tell someone when I admire their work. It’s actually a thrill to be able to connect with other authors (remember, I love all things writerly.) Plus, I know how good it feels to have someone say, “Nice job.” It can get very lonely, this writing thing we do, to the point where you go, Why even bother? So, a kind, honest word from someone goes a long way.

Michelle: Who are your flash heroes and why?

Len: There are so many. Here are some I haven’t mentioned yet: Aubrey Hirsch nails it every time. Julie Innis—she can be incredibly poignant or remarkably funny, often at the same time. Riley Michael Parker writes with razor blades. Brian Olio paints gems like “she’s a name you once knew, the death of a star.” Kevin Sampsell says the things we’ve all lived. Barry Graham makes an overloaded ashtray seem sexy. Ben Loory—every one of his stories is a fable with loads of depth. And Sam Pink—I don’t even know if this guy is a real person, but he once wrote a 50 word story about a Jolly Rancher that was brilliant.

Michelle: Give your most sage advice to flash writers new to the form.

Len: Read lots and lots of flash. Write every day. Find a mentor or two. Learn to ask good questions. What do you do when you aren’t writing flash? I read a lot. I’m a runner. Plus I love movies and great TV like “Dexter” and “Six Feet Under”.

Michelle:  Time for Michelle’s “Flash Challenge!”  Here are your words should you choose to accept: Exhibition, bombast, fingernails, spirals, turbulence, plasma, barrage, conjecture and , last but not least, guts.

Len: Here you go…

Monsters

She could be anybody’s monster, but she’s mine to tend. One day my wife says I have to choose and so I do. “Really, Len?” she says. “Really? You’re choosing her?” When we were very young kids, my sister was still happy. She had a filmmaker’s imagination. Then Mom remarried and Sis’s stories got darker and darker. Each night she told me a story about a monster that lived under our bed, how this part-wolf part-serpent would fly the neighborhood at night, searching bedrooms for young children to eat. “You don’t have the guts to leave me,” my wife says with bombast. But I do. I leave. *** At my sister’s, the proof is everywhere–her shredded fingernails, pupils pulsing like copper spirals, the tang of tar hanging heavy yet strangely invisible in her apartment. “It’s not what you think.” She’s a thin sheet, bones, limp flesh and cloth. When we were kids our stepfather used to beat her for no reason, with a barrage of blows. Sometimes he made up reasons to be ruthless. “What?” she asks, smearing a pink plasma of mucus across her cheek. It’s not hard to conjecture how we’ve gotten here, to this moment and this place on the planet, but it doesn’t make this any easier. I make for the door but she blocks the way. “I thought you loved me,” she says. Her hair is a mop of tangles, her skin pale as curdled cream. “I do,” I say. “I do, but I can’t.” “You promised.” Her voice is jagged, laced with desperation. “It’s not too late to start fresh.” She cackles, filling the air with spiced turbulence. “Well, I’m not going to do it. No way. I can’t.” “Fine.” “Call the hotline.” “You’re my hotline.” “I’m not going to kill you. Not a chance.” “It’s not me, you’ll be killing. You know that.” “He died last year.” “No,” she says, jabbing her chest with a finger. “He never died. He’s here and I can’t stand it.” “Please.” “The monster’s still here.” *** That night we sleep under a full moon staring at us with its one, voyeur’s eye. Her head is curled under my arm. “Thank you,” she says. “I mean that.” The pillow doesn’t seem thick enough, my hands don’t seem strong enough, but I’m wrong. I’m wrong about this.

Michelle: Awesome, Len.    Thanks for offering insight into you process and for such a great flash piece!

Len: Thank you so much, Michelle. Your kindness means a great deal to me.

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Len Kuntz lives on a lake in rural Washington State.  His writing appears widely in print and online at such places as Elimae, The New Verse News, Red River Review and also at lenkuntz.blogspot.com.

Check out some of Len’s stories mentioned in this interview:  “Thoroughly Modern Families”, “Skin,” “Motion Sickness,”  “Medicine and Meat,” and “Happy Campers.”


 

by Erin Kelly

In “Heart,” Every Day Fiction‘s top story for September, Kyle McCarty takes us on a search in 150 words that begins with the following line: “His heart was not where he left it.” The poetic, lyrical piece left readers divided on whether it was a story, poem or overly metaphorical look at something complex that deserved more depth. What one reader found in “Heart,” another did not–and that is often the sign of a truly intriguing mix of words. In the end, “Heart” is a journey not just for the unnamed protagonist but for readers as well.

McCarty hosts a website in which he chronicles a series of 150-word stories like “Heart.” Flash Fiction Chronicles interviewed McCarty about his top story and his thoughts on flash fiction in general.

FFC: What compelled you to write this piece?

McCarty: I was reading Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King at the time and had fallen in love with Native American literature.  Creation and the power of story are powerful themes.  As a writer, how can you not be attracted to them?  And in the end we’re all reduced to stories and maybe a headstone.

I liked the idea of a character picking up words to make something.  Not write them out but actually pick them up and assemble them. Reading that book and ruminating on the power of creation stories, it had to be his heart.  He was going to recreate himself.

FFC: “Heart” is only 150 words. How long did it take you to write it?

McCarty: It only took about half an hour to write.  It was surprisingly quick.   Even though the stuff I do is limited to 150 words, I’m sure writers can understand how long it takes sometimes to find the right 150 words.  This piece came out fully formed, more or less, which usually isn’t the case.

FFC: Brevity,  your blog, features several other stories that are told in no more than 150 words. Why 150?

McCarty: It was pretty arbitrary.  Three hundred seemed too much.  Fifty was way too short.  I liked the sound of “150 by day” so I went with it.  I probably should have Googled the phrase first because all the links that come up sound like investment sites.  My blog is probably the worst financial site on the web.

The word count needed to be a small number.  I wanted it to be a real challenge to fit something in there.  I wanted to eliminate digressions.  I wanted to force myself to cut things out.  To not get needlessly word drunk.  I can still get word drunk, but there has to be a need for it.  There isn’t much room for wasted space and when I start writing longer pieces again the skill I’m learning in the blog should serve me well.

FFC: What do you find uniquely satisfying about writing flash fiction?

McCarty: Stephen King has a great quote comparing short stories with novels that I probably can’t repeat here.  Novels are marriages and short stories are something more immediate and visceral.  Flash fiction is even more so.  It’s the first look that could lead to the marriage.  Or to that other thing.  It’s the shy first kiss filled with implication.

I love the implication.  I have 150 words to work with so oftentimes I need to come up with a way to say something “off the page.”  I don’t have the space to spell it all out.  I can point to something and let the reader fill in the details but it’s only implication on my part.  It was interesting to read the different takes people had on HEART.  They took it in so many different directions.  Being so spartan with the words makes that possible.

There are so many definitions of what flash fiction is and all of them seem too long to me.  I’m sure the phrase “flash fiction” uses the word “flash” to mean “quick” but I think of flash in terms of the flash art you see hanging in tattoo shops.  Those little drawings just ready to go. Almost doodles in a lot of cases.  That term has probably has the same etymology but I think what’s coming out on my blog has more in common with that.

Flash forces an economy of words.  It’s a sort of prose haiku.

FFC: What does the genre offer than others cannot?

McCarty: It adds a sense of play to the writing that usually isn’t there when you sit down to do The Big Work.  With flash, you get the story down and then play a game of “What has to go?”  Or more importantly, “What can’t go?”

Flash is more of a writer’s thing than a reader’s thing.  A good story is a good story.  If people are going to read, they’re going to read.  It can be a hundred and fifty word story about a guy in a train station or it can be a billion word opus about a kid in wizard school.  If it appeals to them, they’re going to do it.

That being said, flash is all first impression.  You don’t win the reader over and then draw them into a larger story because if there’s a larger story, it’s all implied.  You do your thing and, when it’s good, it sticks with the reader.  It gets stuck in their head like a song.  People don’t get novels stuck in their heads.  If they do, they must have very, very big brains.

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Kyle McCarty lives, works and writes in Springfield, IL. He has a microblog at brvty.net, which is updated Tuesday through Thursday at midnight. He also likes music and a bunch of other stuff.