Archive for February, 2012

I wrote poetry until I hit graduate school and saw how hard that would continue to be. The poets were really good, and all I could do was work an image. I found I was a better storyteller, in an imagistic sort of way. I’ll still write (and even more rarely publish) a poem now and then, but stories are where I live.


Michelle Reale
:When did you start writing?

Donna Vitucci:4th grade

Michelle: Tell us about your writing process:

Donna: If it’s long work I’m engaged in, one day’s accomplishment might be as few as a couple paragraphs and as much as a couple pages. Each new day I read the draft from the beginning and fashion and whittle and edit and then write from where I left off. This works until the piece grows unwieldy at about a dozen to 15 pages. Then I only re-read/re-work the immediate few paragraphs prior to my last sentence. Re-reading and rewriting what’s been drafted from 1,2, 3 days before reorients me to the mood and place of the piece, gets me back into the heads of the characters.

Michelle:How do you keep motivated?

Donna:I don’t. If you have some advice, I’d love to hear.

Michelle:How has your writing changed over the years?  How have you changed over the years?

Donna:I wrote poetry until I hit graduate school and saw how hard that would continue to be. The poets were really good, and all I could do was work an image. I found I was a better storyteller, in an imagistic sort of way. I’ll still write (and even more rarely publish) a poem now and then, but stories are where I live.

I used to think by now I’d have books published. I no longer think that’s going to happen. Or rather, I don’t bank on it. I have two marvelous sons and I look on them, their satisfaction in their lives and their adeptness in their careers, and I feel that is something I contributed to, something lasting I’ve had a part in shaping. I’m not so sure anymore that my stories, should any appear in book form, are going to make any kind of lasting mark in the world. I have severe doubts my novels will published, and I’ve kind of made my peace with that. Doesn’t mean I don’t lust after it. But I’m older now than I ever thought I’d be without a book in the world. It feels weird, but okay.

Michelle:In light of that, what kind of goals do you set for yourself then?

Donna:I try to make myself sit down at the computer and open a file every day. Sometimes nothing gets written. Sometime there’s only blather on the page. When I’m in the midst of a draft I’m happy and cookin’. I have something “to go to,” I’ve got a running start. These days, lately, I feel like I ain’t never gonna get off the ground.

Michelle:How often do you write?

Donna:For the longest time, like for the last 10 to 15 yrs, I would write every day. But I bought an historical house last April and have been working on it, whenever I’m NOT at work. At this point I want to take the time to enjoy my life—walking, biking, gardening, sitting in the courtyard with the cats. Besides work and the house rehab, there’s the every-day living with my love, and by that I mean really engaging with him. It may sound like heresy but stories (as in my writing them) don’t seem so critical to me right now. There’s real life, and it’s glorious.

Michelle:What triggers a story?

Donna:A line, a dream, reading history, reading a story, a snippet of a song, an impulse, a memory. Maybe a prompt, but prompts account for only about 15% of my finished stories.

Michelle:You write in both the long and short form.  I find your writing is dreamy in a way, but grounded— evocative and mysterious—I love it!.  Which form do you prefer and why?

Donna:Thank you for the evocative and mysterious. :) I would suggest that applies to my flash fiction and some short fiction. My longer work, especially my novels, are quite realistic and told in traditional form (maybe why I can’t get any of them published; the darlings at the moment seem to be the askance narrative, tales told at odd angles. I just tell stories of families and relationships. Period.) If I have to choose, I think I prefer longer work because I have a kingdom to inhabit and discover day after day.

Michelle:There is so much incredible flash fiction published and so many amazing publications publishing it.  Name some of your favorite writers and publications.

Donna:Knee Jerk, Fried Chicken and Coffee, Juked, Smokelong.

Laura Ellen Scott, Roxane Gay, Bonnie Zobell, Ethel Rohan Michelle Reale, Rusty Barnes

Michelle:  (blush)Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve written and published?

Donna:For flash, I have a fondness for the ones that emerge almost all of a piece, at first pass, with barely any revision—of those I would have to say the tip top one I quite adore (still) appeared in Night Train: “The Tree That Girdles Itself.” A more traditional length story, published/printed in Another Chicago Magazine titled “After Cato,” holds a dear place in my heart because I felt in that story I was able to honor my uncle and his memory and parts of his difficult life, without ever dipping into sentimentality. That was a bar I had set for myself, and I felt I met it.

Michelle:What are you working on now?

Donna: A 250 word flash challenge.

Michelle:  You know me so well!  Throw this down , Donna, and use these words:

Candle, fickle, thrust, sagging, birchwood, jump-start, marriage, modern.

 

Modern Tale

     Heart, they said. Talk jangled and thrust into his ears. He could look if he wanted.

     The nurse’s eyes shoved his lost sky back into view. Morphine jump-started what had been brilliant and abysmal a long forty years ago–his breath entwined with the bottle, a needle and a bag, every modern thing depleted, nothing but the candle with its staggering, fickle flame and the bubble of heat that ran across his skin, yelling bad bad fire.Don’t tell me I’m not strong. He lived a clean, lonely life forward.

     Love then had been a pair of baggy sagging pants, a gangsta tripped by squalor, who fell on the knife in his coat. He’d once razored into birchwood Danny + Sue, then tattooed on his arm the choked angles of the letters, every serif a tongue, and his mouth a barren reservoir.     The biscuit-y smell of  hair, this nurse, as she bathed him, resurrected Suzie. A marriage of light and flesh at his tired bedside, kneading his heart. Here again, Dan at her mercy, in her hands his four chambers, and the rushing, the rushing away.

 Michelle:  Sublime, Donna, as I knew it would be. Thanks!

 

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Donna D. Vitucci works as a development associate, raising funds for local non-profits. Her fiction and poems have appeared in dozens of literary magazines and journals including: Hawaii Review, Front Porch Journal, Another Chicago Magazine, Night Train, Storyglossia, Corium, andMeridian. Her novel manuscript, FEED MATERIALS, was judged a finalist for the Bellwether Prize, 2010.

Read Donna’s story “The Tree That Girds Itself” here.

 

by Jim Harrington

We received over 125 stories for the String-of-10 FOUR contest. Entries came from around the world and from writers new to flash, as well as those who have been writing short-shorts for a number of years. We want to thank everyone who submitted a story for making this our best contest yet. After multiple rounds of voting, we submitted twenty-one stories to Robert Swartwood for final selection. Winners will be named sometime in March. The editors thought it might be helpful to share our thoughts about the stories we received, with the idea that such comments will assist authors who participate in future contests–whether sponsored by FFC or another publication.

***

From Gay Degani

One of things I want to find in a story is something fresh and original, something I haven’t read before. This “freshness” can be in an old idea that is recast in a new way or an original idea well written. Stories of suicide and revenge show up every year, but it seemed to me we had many more this year. Perhaps the word “bitter” is at the bottom of this. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with any topic, of course, because stories are about life, and suicide and revenge exist in life. However, the problem is that it’s sometimes difficult to figure out a unique angle that will make an impact on the reader.

Another thing I noticed is that though some stories had intriguing ideas, the writing didn’t have a strong narrative voice or the language felt too general. Original ideas still need to be supported by strong characters, active verbs, and precise language. Active verbs and specific nouns add energy to scenes.

The prompt words gave writers choices in terms of how to use them. Most were homonyms: jar, wage, stand, cast, gravity, tire, edge, organ, even “bitter” if you refer to ale as a “bitter.” Entries that did not go to the most obvious meanings of the words–where “tire” meant something besides the four rubbery wheels on a car,  ”jar” referred to an emotional response rather than a container filled with moss, and  ”gravity” pertained to a serious situation instead of a force of nature–these pieces were refreshing. That said, there were some wonderful stories where a tire was tire, a jar was a jar, and lack of gravity meant falling on your head.

The entries were fun to read, even those that didn’t make the first cut. And although many needed more work, all the pieces showed promise, either in voice or story, originality or structure. Writing is a process and with each story written, a writer begins to better understand what makes a character compelling, a scene pop off the computer screen, or an ending that sticks with a reader for days. So congratulations to everyone who entered. We appreciate and honor you.

***

From Michelle Reale

I would add something that I have been noticing in so many of the entries: how so many of them are filled with over-the-top adventure—like watching a movie with little story but a lot of special effects. “Quiet” stories about quotidian things can be very powerful and memorable and, in some cases, have more of an impact that all those pyrotechnics.

***

From Robin Meister

My addition to the comments on submissions is how important and meaningful it is to workshop a piece before submitting it. Showing your work to at least one fellow writer who can constructively criticize it (such as Patricia McFarland’s office “Tigger’s Den” on Zoetrope!) can increase the quality and the chances of a win. In my opinion, contest judges should never be the first readers.

***

From Jim Harrington

-Using more than four of the prompt words didn’t improve a story’s chance of winning if the story itself was weak.
-We received a number stories on the theme “death will set you free.” With so many using the same theme, a story had to stand out to make it past the first cut.
-We received many stories containing glass jars, but few, if any, where a character was jarred by a loud noise.
-If the work wasn’t a complete story, it had to at least contain a character worth caring about.
-Sloppy writing (poor punctuation, missing words, etc.) did not help a story’s chances.
-If links are provided, read previous winners to get an idea of the kind of story that is likely to win.
-Don’t write a story using the first idea that comes to mind. Search for something deeper.

***

Bernardo Bolt Gregori

It’s quite alarming how effectively the old villain concepts we know as expectations plus compliance to rules and, most of all, the feeling that us writers are capable of or entitled to invent stories from scratch whenever we embark on creative tours can be misleading, forcing the storyteller to veer from truth. That’s the bulkiest obstacle I witnessed during this String-of-10 Contest.

Guidelines, themes and styles provided by any publication with which writing pieces are intended to comply are better off, the way I see it, as a spark of ignition, as a blow of inspiration. I struggled to understand and I somewhat learned eventually that in my case, immediately after being fed with that script, I have to let the loosely variegated spectrum of gusts and stillness, absolutely out any reach of control of my expertise, willingness, moral and whatnot, take its chances and contribute to the forwarding of the characters’ stream of events also known as life. That’s the very imperative moment when I must and I do become a scrivener, lenses of a camera, ears of Roman spies at the sire’s disposal, a fly that flutters, incognito, and engrave stones with the signs of erosion.

Whenever I’m in for the challenge, I have two major routes which infallibly drop in my thoughts. One way to see it is let the prompt of words, sentences, or ideas come to life as a melody. How do I commune with this other inhabitant of my immediate cosmos? A character that has no body, no background history or story, no utterance is, hence, words, sentences, ideas which present themselves to me as subjective phonemes. This is more than Morse code or the echoing groove of an indigenous drum. Another stack of steps I often take is of an unfatigable pilgrim. I start a journey observing each corner of the landscape in search of a story which encompasses the elements of the prompt, and is involuntarily, without any previous stimuli, already happening as I pass by. Ah-ha! There it is. That’s when I write verbatim what I see. Imposing words or ideas as a head start, trying to adapt or force them to become a story is and has always been in my personal experience a binge of hemlock. Maybe what I’m trying to say is that writers don’t make up stories. They discover them. Discovery is what creative stands for.

Often, as I read the result of my writing, I get suspicious and walk to the extent of paranoia. Will anyone accept the fact that this story originated from that specific prompt? This is for the judges and editors to say. The risk I take to be cut off the contest for not complying with the guidelines or even to be ridiculed by the panel does not scare me at all. That’s the only tunnel that may surprise me with light at its end.

______________________

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 Jim Harrington

Market Added

  • Inch Magazine (750, quarterly) publishes literary fiction

Editor Interviews Added

  • Penumbra eZine ($, 1,500, monthly) publishes speculative fiction
  • Pure Slush (100-500, weekly) publishes mainstream fiction, each week has a theme

______________________

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.

Rumjhum Biswasby Rumjhum Biswas

Fish Publishing is well known across the world as much for the prestigious writing contests it curates as for the writing talents it has encouraged and helped launch. Over the years many well known writers have supported Fish and helped judge the contests. Fish began on the West of Ireland in 1994.

Yet in all these years the two people who first created Fish Publishing have remained low key. They are Clem Cairns and Jula Wharton, who, since Fish began, have continued to work behind the scenes to make Fish Publishing a name writers from countries far and wide aspire to be associated with. In this interview we get up close with Clem Cairns for a bit of history and the dream that led to what is easily one of the most prestigious writing contests today, and a publishing house that has brought out some of the finest writers at the beginning of their careers.

Apart from the annual Fish International Short Story Prize , Fish Publishing runs three other competitions, The Fish Flash Fiction Prize, The Fish Memoir Prize and The Fish Poetry Prize . Winners of all four competitions are published in Fish Anthologies during the West Cork Literary Festival in Bantry, West Cork, Ireland.

For those who want to have a shot, the Fish Flash Fiction Prize is open until 20th March 2012! Rules and other details are here.  Fish Publishing also runs two online writing courses, one for memoir and the other for flash fiction. Details about their online flash fiction course are here.

Rumjhum Biswas: Fish Publishing and the annual Fish Writing Contests are known all over the world. Now we’d like to know who the people are behind Fish Publishing. Can you tell us about yourself and also Jula Walton?

Clem CairnsClem Cairns: Jula and I have been working together on Fish since it started in 1994. We called it Fish because I was working on a fishing trawler at the time off the south west coast of Ireland, trying to raise the money to begin the publishing venture. We are the most westerly publishing house in Europe. Jula typesets and designs the anthologies that we publish, containing the winning entries from the Fish competitions. She also creates the ads for magazines, websites, and so on, and looks after the web pages on our site, and does the Fish Newsletter. I do most of the administration and oversee the editorial work.

 

RB: How did the idea of Fish come about? What were the events that led to it? Who were the first people involved. What were those early days like?

CC: The idea came about in 1994 because we realized how difficult it was for new, aspiring writers to get published in a “proper book”, so we ran the first short story prize as a way of attracting the best writers we could. After one year and one anthology we went global. We wanted to reach out from our remote corner if Ireland to the world, and to bring some Irish writing to the world. We have published over 400 writers in the intervening years, from Nepal to Nevada, Dublin to Durban, Cape Town to Copenhagen.

Jula Wharton

There were the two of us, and a Canadian woman called Mary Hawkes, living in West Cork, who could type (neither Jula nor I could back then), and because we had neither typewriter nor computer, Mary used the services in the local Arts Centre in Skibbereen.

Those early days were exciting. We had the sense of being on a mission, on a shoe-string. I was reading and editing between catches on the trawler, and Jula was dealing with all else from the house in West  Cork. It took over a year to get the first anthology out. Roddy Doyle judged the competition and he launched the Anthology at a party in Dublin. He has been a constant support to Fish over the years. We were sailing.

RB: Running Fish, the publishing, contests etc. must be an all consuming thing. Give us a day in your Fish-y life.

CC: Reading, reading, reading. There are about 20 editors who work freelance for Fish. It is mostly all online nowadays so they can be anywhere in the world. Much of the day is spent administering the competitions and organizing the editors. We look forward to the days where we can get out, to talk to writers, the launch the anthology, to take writing groups, and so on.

RB: Fish writing contests have been running since 1994, clearly one of the longest running international writing contests. What did you visualise when you organised the first contest? How has it grown since then?

CC: We visualized a vibrant publishing house that would break the mould. We wanted to be accessible and daring. We wanted to publish exciting new fictin from all over the world, and to give new writers a “start” on the road to becoming a successful writer. I believe that this has been accomplished over and again.

The first Short Story Prize attracted 350 entries. Now we get about 1,900, and the net has grown and continues to grow. Writers from Australia, New  Zealand, the Americas enter in their hundreds, and the surge now is from India and the Middle-East, and Africa. We added, over the years, a prize for Poetry, Flash Fiction, and just this year, Short Memoir. There are two online writing courses, in Flash Fiction and Memoir, run by Mary-Jane Holmes, a Screen Writing Consultancy run by Zimbabwian writer Rory Kilalea, and an Editorial Consultancy with Irish Writer Martin Malone, and we are in the process of adding courses on Short Story and the Novel.

RB: Please tell us about the other people who are involved with Fish.

CC: There are too many. Some editors have been with us from the start, others come and go. Mary-Jane Holmes does a huge amount of great work. Mary Hawkes is still with us. A company called Vivid Logic run by Phoebe Bright built the online entry system on the website and looks after the database and all of that technical stuff. Our editors live in Ireland, Spain, Holland, Canada, the USA. They are dedicated and interested readers who are excited about the prospect of discovering a new talent. We try to get as many as possible together for the launch of the Anthology every year at the West Cork Literary Festival, which was started 14 years ago by Fish and is going from strength to strength.

Roddy Doyle, Colum McCann, Dermot Healy and the late Frank McCourt are honorary patrons of the Fish Prize. They have all been judges in the past for Fish competitions, joining an illustrious band of great writers who have lent us their support.

Sue Booth Forbes runs a writing retreat, Anam Cara, in the west of Ireland. She has been providing a week in residence to some of our winners for over 14 years. The work that gets done their under the guidance of Sue and in the stupendous environment of the retreat and its incredible natural surroundings is gratifying. We recently added another Retreat Prize in Casa Anna, in the mountainous Alpujarra region of Spain. 

RB: When did you introduce the Flash Fiction Contest and why?

CC: We introduced it in 1994, because it is an exciting and relatively new genre. It is not really that new, but it had not gained widespread popularity till about then. Dave Eggers judged the first competition and we normally receive about 1,500 entries.

RB: Is there a specific reason behind the 300 word limit for your flash contest? It could have been any word count up to 1000, so why 300? 

CC: It’s the discipline. The skill it takes to write a story in 300 words is immense. It sounds easy but it is not. To write a complete story with that constriction is a challenge and a half. You have to tell so much while leaving it out! 

RB: Where do you think Flash Fiction can go where longer forms cannot?

CC: It can go more towards prose, towards poetry. It shares the pure distillation process with poetry to some extent. It puts a value on each word, each punctuation, that even a short story does not. It can also take forms akin to the telling of a joke, with the short build-up and the punch line, where a twist in the tale and a surprise are possible.

RB: You also conduct an online flash fiction writing course. Why did you choose to make it online? And why flash fiction and not a short story writing course?

CC: It is online because it is the easiest and most efficient way to run a course while the students are anywhere in the world. The tuition is one-to-one, and while it is designed to take three months it can be done in one’s own time. It was an experiment at first, to see if an online course would work for the students and for Fish. It has been a huge success, and so we added the Memoir and are working on Poetry, Short Story, The Novel and Screenwriting.

RB: Who are the flash fiction writers that you have published and those who have won prizes that you would like to especially mention?

CC: Seamus Scanlon’s winning story from 2011 – The Long Wet Grass” is one of the most stunning pieces of Flash I have ever read. We got more emails and comments about it than possible anything else we published. Zoe Sinclair’s “Darling Mummy from the 2010 Prize is brilliant. It has the gentle build-up and smack between the eyes ending that is typical of the form but hard to master.

RB: What are the common mistakes that flash fiction writers make?

CC: They think it will be easy because its short. Actually its more difficult. Endings are the place where many Flash stories fall down. But then, if the ending is weak it often points to an inherent weakness in the rest of it.

RB: Any tips and words of advice?

CC:Yes. Read the best Flash stories by writers who have perfected the craft. There are many examples in the Fish Anthologies and some on our website. Pay attention to the structure, to what is implied rather than told, to the careful use of language, and to the last line. In such a short form, remember that the title, even, is crucial.

RB: What next?Where do you see Fish going next?

CC: Keep swimming upstream. It’s a sign a fish is alive. If you really want to improve, do the Fish online course.

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Rumjhum Biswas lives and writes in Chennai, India. Her writing blog is at Writers & Writerisms. Her fiction and poetry have been published all over the world.

 

 

by Gaius Coffey

Something momentous happened today; I made up my mind.

I saw yet another thread on yet another writing forum where yet another writer had decided to self-publish. He has lost faith in the publishing industry and is no longer convinced mainstream publishers have anything to offer, but he has faith in his work, he wants people to read his work and he wants to make some money. After all, it is a killer premise and he’s a good writer.

Well… quite. We all want to be read.

The thread had so many echoes with my own experience that I can easily imagine having written something similar. After all, it is a fact that the best novel I have read in a long time has yet to attract the interest of an agent, let alone a publisher. It is also a fact that many anthologies and niche titles can be published profitably by authors but may not be commercially viable for a mainstream publisher. The submission model is, in my opinion, ludicrously flawed and self-defeating to the point that it suits almost nobody. Anecdotally, the success stories amongst my writer friends have (without exception) somehow circumvented the traditional submit to agent, agent submits to publisher model. There is the ongoing e-publishing revolution and, of course, there are the militant blogs of people like Konrath to encourage a healthy questioning of the status quo.

So it is almost unthinkable for a writer today to exclude the possibility of self-publishing when mainstream publishers are looking for writers to come to them fully formed with the perfect manuscript and a readymade tribe of followers be it from e-zines, blogging, Twitter, Facebook or whatever. As such, the benefits of mainstream publication have been eroded from almost every direction and the statistics on writers earnings make for depressing reading.

But…

The writer of the thread reached his momentous decision after fewer than a dozen rejection slips. He has no tribe, no readership to sell to. There is no pre-defined niche that his book will slot into to satisfy a compelling, pre-existing need. He has no experience of selling and no clear evidence of his book being any better than the thousands of other competently written works with good premises that are generated every year by the likes of him and yours truly. More importantly, it is his first novel. If it sells, he will need a follow-up to capitalise on his success. If it doesn’t sell, he will need to write something better to sell in its place. But how will that second novel happen when all the energy that should be going into writing it is going – has to go – into marketing the current one?

And that was when I made my decision.

Yes, I want to be read, yes, I want to be published but, above all, I want to write. I have seen the effort that goes into self-publishing successfully, and it is just that; unrelenting effort. The successes are marked by a number in a ledger, and then it is back out to do the same again. But writing, for me, is play as well as work. The battles when it doesn’t come right are offset by the highs when it does and the success of finishing a story is marked by a tangible addition to my body of work. Maybe it won’t sell immediately, but it might sell eventually, and it will always be there for me to draw on.

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Gaius Coffey’s story “Alone, Not Lonely” was shortlisted for the 2010 Fish Publications One-page Story competition. His story “Terry and the Eye” was Every Day Fiction’s most read story in March, 2010. He lives in Dublin with his wife, two cats and a baby daughter; the latter being as much an inspiration to write as an impediment to writing resulting, on balance, in bafflement.