Archive for May, 2012

Thanks to all of you who suggested stories online (and off) that you love and want to share with others.  This year we’ve reeled in 134 links to stories.   While this is a wonderful list, it is in no way inclusive of all the worthy stories out there.  However, these are the stories that stirred readers to take the time to suggest them.  They are listed in the order we received them.  No one story is considered better than another.  That’s for YOU to decide.  (But don’t vote for them here. This isn’t a contest).  Please take the time to scroll through the list and read some pieces you might not have read before.  Let the author know if you loved it.  Share with others.


Flash Fiction Chronicles 134 Story Links in Honor of Short Story Month 2012*

1.      Lydia Before  by Aliya Whiteley  suggested by Gay Degani

2.       Flowers for Clockwork Street  by Jennifer R. Fierro suggested by Chris Lawrence

3.      Guava by Etgar Keret suggested by Christopher James

4.      Husk of Hare by Christopher Allen suggested by Gill Hoffs

5.      About Me and My Cousin  by Scott Garson suggested by Tara Laskowski

6.      Singing My Sister Down by Margo Lanagan suggested by Nicola King

7.      The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges by Ava Lanchetoo

8.      Taking the Wind by Folly Blaine suggested by Chris Lawrence

9.      ‎Banyan  by Robert Olen Butler suggested by Susan Tepper       

10.  The Howling by Rusty Barnes suggested by Sam Snoek-Brown

11.  Little Things by Raymond Carver suggested by Sam Snoek-Brown

12.  Dedication by Stephen Graham Jones suggested by Karen Pfister Nelson

13.  Standard Loneliness Package by Charles Yu suggested by Jane Hammons

14.  The Langsammachen Pitch by Martin Zeigler suggested by Nate Tower

15.  Do You Remember by Sally Houtman suggested by James Claffey–2

16.  What Passes For Normal by Michelle Reale suggested by Robert Vaughan

17.  Divestiture by Bruce Holland Rogers suggested by Virgie Townsend

18.  Vanya by Alex Pruteanu suggested by Susan Tepper

19.  My Life As An Abomination by Marc Schuster  suggested by Nicole Scarpato Monaghan

20.  I Met Loss the Other Day by Cara Blue Adams suggested Virgie Townsend

21.  Egg Toss, August 1989 by Meagan Cass suggested by Cindy Tracy Larsen

22.  The Freeze by Virgie Townsend suggested by Ashley Inguanta

23.  One Truth by Curtis Smith suggested by Gay Degani

24.  The Writer by Cezarija Abartis suggested by Gay Degani

25.  A Temporary Matter  by Jhumpa Lahiri suggested by Stephen Buoro

26.  ‎Light in the Window by Martin McCaw suggested by Tim Johnston (fee)

27.  Mr. Pfeiffer by Vicky Mlyniec suggested by Tim Johnston (fee)

28.  Staying Behind by Ken Liu suggested by Johann Thorsson

29.  Tideline by Jasmine Gould suggested by Oonah Joslin

30.  The Third and Final Continent by Jhumpa Lahiri suggested by Tammy Johnston & Steve Buoro

31.  Kaleidoscope by Ray Bradbury suggested by Joanna Delooze

32.  Back and to the Left by  Ryan Werner suggested by Sam Snoek-Brown

33.  You Choose by Linda McCullough Moore suggested by Beverly Akerman (full text not online; subscription)

34.  In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried by Amy Hempel  suggested by

35.  The Day the Universe Learned How to Lean by Len Kuntz suggested by Ross McMeekin

36.  Pavlov by Erik Evenson suggested by Ross McKeekin

37.  Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie suggested by Stephen Buoro

38.  The Headstrong Historian by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie suggested by Stephen Buoro

39.  26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss by Kij Johnson suggested by Sarah Pinsker

40.  After the Ball by Andrew Stancek suggested by Autumn Humphrey

41.  This Is Us and This Is Us Outside by Kuzhali Manickavel suggested by  Indira Chandrasekhar

42.  The Reincarnation of Chamunda by Annam Manthiram suggested by  Indira Chandrasekhar

43.  Hot, Fast, and Sad by Alissa Nutting suggested by Virgie Townsend

44.  The Sweeper of Dreams by Neil Gaiman suggested by Virgie Townsend

45.  Outside Sweetwater by Ashley Inguanta suggested by Virgie Townsend

46.  The Prediction by Kama Falzoi Post suggested by Virgie Townsend

47.  Bound by Blue by Meg Tuite suggested by Robert Vaughan

48.  Snapshots I Brought Back from the Black Hole by K.C. Ball suggested by Gay Degani 

49.  (UNTITLED) by Mary Stone Dockery suggested by Meg Tuite

50.  Ten Notes to the Guy Studying Jujitsu by Robert Vaughan suggested by Susan Tepper

51.  The Oregon Trail Taught Me How To Love  by Gregory Sherl  suggested by Meg Tuite

52.  ‎ Desire by Susan Tepper suggested by Meg Tuite

53.  Ginger by Marcus Speh suggested  by Susan Tepper

54.  Headstone by Jane Hammons suggested by Susan Tepper–2

55.  Altar Rail by James Claffey suggested by Meg Tuite

56.  To Build A Fire by Jack London suggested by Dan Vitale

57.  Rain by W. Somerset Maugham suggested by Dan Vitale

58.  Scissors/Paper/Rock by Beverly Carol Lucey  suggested by Beverly A. Jackson

59.  The Widow’s Tale by J. Chris Lawrence suggested by Vlad Osmo

60.  Snow by Kathy Fish suggested by Virgie Townsend ‎–3

61.  Running by R.S. Thomas suggested by Gay Degani

62.  In a Basket by Ann Bogle suggested by Susan Tepper

63.  Hellgate by David Ackley suggested by Susan Tepper

64.  Child’s Play by Alice Munro suggested by Anonymous

65.  Bullet in the Bran by Tobias Wolff suggested by Anonymous

66.  The Dinner Party by Joshua Ferris suggested by Anonymous

67.  Land of Pain by Stacey Richter suggested by Sequoia Nagamatsu

68.  Flower Children  by Maxine Swann suggested by Kathy Fish

69.  That Long Evening on Our Balcony  by Nathan Long suggested by Sue Ann Connaughton

70.  Notes to my Biographer by Adam Haslett suggested by Stefani Nellen

71.  Zog-19: A Scientific Romance by Pinckney Benedict suggested by Sequoia Nagamatsu

72.  His Last Great Gift by Matt Bell suggested by Sequoia Nagamatsu

73.  Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr suggested by Sequoia Nagamatsu  (available only by purchase of his collection of the same name, but I love this story too)

74.  Jesus is Waiting by Amy Hempel suggested by Anonymous (download $2.99)

75.  Wildwood by Junot Diaz suggested by  Anonymous (found this link but can’t find a link to actually listen to it)

76.  Fruits and Words by Aimee Bender suggested by  Anonymous (found this link but can’t find link to actually listen to it )

77.  Good Country People by Flannery O’Connor suggested by Bonnie ZoBell

78.  The River by Flannery O’Connor suggested by Peg Frey

79.  How Pearl Button was Kidnapped by Katherine Mansfield suggested by Peg Frey

80.  A Small, Good Thing by Raymond Carver suggested by Peg Frey

81.  The Burden by Russell Banks suggested by Peg Frey (preview and then you must sign up)

82.  Cathedral by Raymond Carver suggested by Peg Frey  (I can’t find a link to this online)

83.  A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings by Gabriel Garcia Marquez suggested by Cynthia Litz

84.  The Scheme Of Things by Charles D’Ambrosio suggested by Sequoia Nagamatsu

85.  In Gavin Slough by Robert McCarthy suggested by Marty Lopez

86.  The Portable Phonograph by Walter Van Tilburg Clark suggested by John C. Mannone   (I can’t find a link to this online)

87.  Pleiku Jacket by Jane Hammons suggested by Linda Simoni-Wastila

88.  Pornography by Steve Almond suggested by Townsend Walker

89.  The Babysitter by Robert Coover suggested by Townsend Walker

90.  The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman suggested by Townsend Walker

91.  Black Ice by Cate Kennedy suggested by Townsend Walker

92.  The Leaper by Frank Marrone suggested by Townsend Walker

93.  Pumpkins by Francine Prose suggested by Townsend Walker

94.  Ocean in a Box by Marko Fong suggested by Townsend Walker

95.  Just Lather, That’s All by Hernando Tellez suggested by Townsend Walker

96.  Queen Isabella Eats a Pineapple and Misses the Jews by Cami Park suggested by John Riley

97.  A Radically Condensed History of Postindustrial Life by David Foster Wallace suggested by John Riley

98.  Full by Robert Walser suggested by John Riley

99.  The Smallest Woman  in the World by Clarice Lispector suggested by John Riley

100.    May You Live in Interesting Times by JP Reese suggested by Susan Tepper

101.  A Pile of Shirts, Ripped from the Body by Kevin Wilson suggested by Brenda Bishop Blakey

102.Jealous Husband Returns in Form of a Parrot by Robert Olen Butler suggested by Kenton K. Yee                                                                                          

103.‎The Hermit’s Story by Rick Bass suggested by Kenton K. Yee (This is the title story in Bass’s collection of the same title).

104.Taking the Cinder Path Down to the Sea by Sarah Hilary suggested by Gay Degani

105.Stump Louie by Lisa Halliday suggested by  Christoper Sutcliffe Jones

106.Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? by Joyce Carol Oates suggested by Bonnie ZoBell

107.How to Become a Writer by Lorrie Moore Oates suggested by Bonnie ZoBell

108.Big Me by Dan Chaon suggested by Bonnie ZoBell

109. On Becoming Women by Cynthia Larsen suggested by Gay Degani

110.Warning by Seana Graham suggested by Colleen F. Ciccozzi

111.The Dressmaker’s Child by William Trevor suggested by Peg Frey

112.Men of Ireland by William Trevor suggested by Peg Frey

113.Scheherazade by  Charles Baxter suggested by Peg Frey (fee and/ subscription)

114.Fright X by Robert Swartwood suggested by Gay Degani

115.What is Tucked Inside the Fold of Her Skin by Eryk Wenziak suggested by Robert Vaughan:

116.Haunt-by-Ethel-Rohan suggested by  Michelle Elvy

117.Timpani by Michelle Elvy suggested by Walter Bjorkman

118.A&P by John Updike suggested by Elham Zolghadr

119.The School by Donald Barthelme suggested by Doug Bond

120.Reunion by John Cheever suggested by Doug Bond

121.Dry September by William Faulkner suggested by Doug Bond

122.The Bigness of the World by Lori Ostlund suggested by Doug Bond

123.Under the Boardwalk by Jayne Anne Phillips suggested by Doug Bond

124.I Married This by Meg Pokrass suggested by Doug Bond

125.Boys Town by Jim Shepard suggested by Doug Bond

126.Impossible Object by  Robyn Carter by Hobie Anthony

127.The Potting Shed by Graham Greene suggested by John C. Mannone

128.Acts of Love by Len Kuntz suggested by Andrew Stancek

129.Soccer Dad by Randall Brown suggested by Andrew Stancek

130.The Wig by Brady Udall suggested by Andrew Stancek

131.Baby 6 by Morgan Brothers  suggested by James Claffey

132.The Swimmer in the Desert by Alex Preston suggested by Johann Thorsson

133.Instead of the Glass by Randall Brown suggested by Cindy Tracy Larsen

134.Pebble in a Pool by Frances Gonzalez suggested by Gay Degani



*A lot of copying and pasting went on during the month and the information above was gleaned from different Facebook sites as well as Zoetrope.  There is the strong possibility that I have lost, dropped, confused a story, a name, a link, and I know for sure there is no “suggester” for one of the stories above.  Please don’t be afraid to post a correction in the comment section of this post. I will try and get to correcting the post as soon as I can.   –Gay Degani, editor of Flash Fiction Chronicles

by Michelle Reale

Michelle Reale:Ashley, why flash?

Ashley Inguanta: When I was in undergrad, my professor Jeanne Leiby challenged us to write a 250 word story—no more, no less.  I’ve never written a story that short in my life. At the time I was not only finding my voice in terms of fiction, but I was discovering who I was outside of who I felt people wanted me to be.  I knew I wanted to kiss a woman, understand the body of a woman. This terrified me.

When Jeanne asked for that story, I wrote about a girl who ran, fast, out the door. That’s where the story began. I ran with her, the girl. We saw the same patterns in the flowers, the same lovers, the same child and the same yellow balloon.

It felt so good to run away with that girl.

There’s an ability to sell secrets in flash that I have trouble finding in longer forms. There’s a rhythm to flash I find comforting, like coming home.

Michelle: How might a piece begin?

Ashley: Almost always a piece begins with missing somebody.  Maybe a piece begins with some tea, a cigarette.  Sometimes a piece will begin at a gas station in the desert, the moment when two kids walk out with sodas and ride their bikes home.  A piece can begin with a drive, a truck of oranges on the highway, a border collie at a rest stop, the deep red carpeting of a motel, the way that bed smelled like spices, the way her hip curved, the way Prairie told me to keep that secret in Santa Fe. The way the Florida sun is so bright when it sets, like an egg, dropping.  Almost always a piece begins with me wanting to hold on to something or somebody.

Michelle: How do you feel about the longer form in relation to what you can achieve in flash?

Ashley:With flash, I feel like I have more freedom to play with language and jump around in time. I’ve done this with longer forms of fiction, but with flash, I feel a certain sense of comfort.

I am perpetually seeking the root of things through language and image and time, and in a world where time is flying all over the place, so loose, it’s interesting to see time compartmentalized.

We are changing every minute of every day. I don’t want to forget this. I don’t want to overlook these changes.

Michelle: One of my favorite pieces of yours is “Trash” which appeared in Gone Lawn 4.   It is tiny and tight. A bit disorienting, my sign of a great piece.  I want to be knocked off my center and this piece did it for me.  Can you tell me the evolution of writing it?

Ashley:This piece actually began with a dirty floor and a mop. I was mopping the floor and singing to something, and I felt like I was drowning so I put on some red lipsick. I felt like a fish in a bowl.

I wrote “Trash” when I was in a pretty dark place and had to make a choice: Cover up feeling or face it head on. I chose to face it head on. I wanted to hear those rabbits outside, watch the sun rise.

In terms of the writing process here, I wrote the piece in about two or three sittings. It came out in this smooth, odd way; and I was feeling extremely un-grounded when I wrote it, floaty and disoriented, so I clung to these words to help me stand, figure out the next step.

Michelle:Your photography gets as much attention as your writing, and it is as equally amazing —-does photography inspire your flash, or vice versa?

Ashley:Photography and writing help me experience and process this world in a healthy way, and I don’t think words could ever express the gratitude I have for that.

I don’t pair my photographs with my writing often, but that is changing, actually.  For The Burrow Press Review, I wrote two travel narratives where I explored landscape and movement and time/space.  Here, I do pair my photography with my writing.

Michelle:How has your MFA been instrumental in your success? Was there a focus on flash in your program?

Ashley:Going through the MFA program at the University of Central Florida was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. I became close with a group of people who were looking for the same thing I was—to communicate through the written word.  For the first year, we had dinner together weekly. The second year we helped each other as we taught undergrad, as we compiled our theses. We watched each other grow. It’s a bit disorienting to see so much growth in such a short period of time. I’m still processing how important grad school was to me and how much I miss it.

There was no focus on flash, but in fiction workshops flash was encouraged, and in poetry workshops, the door was open to explore lines between flash and poetry. I took advantage of both.  I created a hybrid thesis, a mix of longer fiction, poetry, flash, and words that come together as something else.

Michelle: You have a new collection, The Way Home, which is being published by Dancing Girl Press. They have published most of my favorite collections, so I am not surprised they are publishing yours!  Tell me about the process of getting your manuscript together.

It’s an honor to be published with Dancing Girl Press.  I am lucky to have found a home for my words with them.

I especially love Joanna Novack’s Something Real and Shiela Squillante’s A Woman Traces the Shoreline, and it feels almost surreal that my work is standing alongside theirs.

I like these books because they compartmentalize time in a way I was talking about before. The Way Home also does this, and it all came together in this odd, natural way. This book came together as I was living and experiencing and growing through a great deal of pain. Honestly, I think it took my entire life to write this book.

Michelle:Where do you write and what is your process?

Ashley:Lately I’ve been writing by the ocean.  I like to write on my patio, too, near the orchids I share space with.

My process relies a lot on feeling, no hesitations.  When I sit and meditate and breathe, I can get to my first thoughts and I just go, and it feels good.

My revision process is very intuition based (but really, what revision process isn’t?), but that first draft relies mostly on my ability to feel and be honest with myself.

Michelle:Who are some of your favorite flash writers?

Ashely:I love Stephen Graham Jones. His book Bleed Into Me changed the way I wrote, helped me find my voice, feel comfortable shifting in time.  I also admire Kim Chinquee—her story “Hip” in particular is sexy and powerful and has this soft, whispery quality to it.  Kayla Roseclere’s work is brave and wonderful. I could go on forever answering this question, honestly. 

Michelle: Every writer has a “word bank” words we love to use and that show up with regularity in our writing, whether conscious or not.  What are some of the words in your word bank?

Ashley:I love these words: Moon, light, home, curve.

Michelle: Ashley, please take my 200 word  challenge using these words:  psychedelic, home,  ceiling tiles,  anemone, mascot, grief,  green, gold.   

Ashley: I want to write about your hometown. I’ve done this a million times before. Missing you, missing you, detailing that space where you grew. Grief is nothing but a hand slapped on my belly, my breast, telling me no, you can’t have, and when home found me I was a monster, growing, holding my grandfather’s hand. The other men walked beside us as we ran; they glided like birds, all psychedelic and loose, a song. Now that I am older, when I pray my hands grow so big they become maps, and the tips of my fingers, they can reach the ceiling tiles, and I pray so hard the tiles become Marilyn Monroe, and my mouth is right there, right there; and my neighbors, they are making coyote noises at the moon. My knees are stained green like when I hitched a ride with that man. I pressed my lips to his neck and he was gold, hardened, and I was mascot, singing a big-hair song.  You weren’t there, Anemone, and I understood this, so I sang stronger, I prayed so hard that Florida herself swallowed me into belly, the whale, and I fell asleep. I felt not a thing.

Michelle: Oh! Incredible! Thank you so much!


Ashley Inguanta has earned an honorable mention in Glimmer Train for their Very Short Fiction Award amongst many, many other awesome achievements.  Read all about her here.

Gaius Coffeyby Gaius Coffey

Stooge- ‘How do you become a publishing millionaire?’

Comic- ‘Start with a billion dollars…’

The great thing about comedy is that the above would work just as well if ‘publishing’ was replaced with oil, pharmaceuticals, software or horse-racing. But not all jokes are so portable. Consider this old classic:

Stooge- ‘Why did the chicken cross the road?’

Comic- ‘To get to the other side…’

You maybe didn’t laugh out loud this time, but when it was new and fresh and original, people would have been rolling in the aisles from the complex interplay of self-referential gagging, tweaking of audience preconceptions and surprising statement of the obvious. Like the ‘three men walk into a bar’ trope, it has achieved greatness through familiarity, adaptation and reuse.

Try migrating that joke to writing and…

Stooge- ‘Why did the author write a story?’

Comic- ‘To get published to get famous and to get rich.’

Stooge- ‘Don’t make me laugh.’

Comic- ‘… (isn’t that what we’re here for?)’

The depressing reality is that money is not a valid consideration for most writers and the likelihood of getting published is dependent on the definition of published. Does self-published count as published? Is being on a blog published? Is being paid for a story published? Is being accepted by a minor publisher published? Does 100 sales count as published? 1,000 sales? 10,000 sales? Worse, that definition is fluid so that ‘published for money’ becomes ‘published for an amount of money that isn’t insulting’ the day after your first sale.

As for fame, is there anyone less suited to public scrutiny than a typically reclusive introvert whose idea of a good time is to hole-up for a week in blessed isolation with just a laptop, a scribble-pad and a good bottle of bourbon?

Yet we still write. We send out the things we’ve written. We endure agonies to make our writing better. Many of us have at least one completed masterwork that represents years of elapsed time and thousands of hours of hard work. Many more of us are working on another one.

So let’s try that again:

Stooge- ‘Why did the author write a story?’

Comic- ‘Because not writing it could be fatal to the delicate, sensitive soul of a creative genius chosen by fate as the conduit for mankind’s creativity.’

Well, yes. Some things do have to be written, but it is a willing compulsion in that writers choose to care about whatever idea they’ve just woken up to scribble down. (At three AM, on the back of an envelope, using precious-first-born’s red crayon because there are no pens in the house.) It is no surprise that the compulsion is less keenly felt when I have an important meeting the next morning, for example.

Alright, third time lucky:

Stooge- ‘Why did the author write a story?’

Comic- ‘Just read the damned thing.’

Ah, that’s it…

I wrote before I thought of getting published and I would still write if I gave up on getting published. If I send out stories for publication, it’s because I think they are good enough for others to enjoy and by the time I send it out it is old-news to me because I’ve already written the next. Yes, I follow reader comments with interest, I hope you’ll enjoy reading and it is fascinating to see what did and didn’t work, but that is a secondary pleasure. I already got my kicks writing it.


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.   You can read more of his work right here .


Rumjhum Biswasby Rumjhum Biswas

Short stories are what Tania Hershman loves best and it shows. Tania’s second collection, My Mother Was An Upright Piano: Fictions, has been published this Month, May 2012 by Tangent Books.  In her work, the numerous awards that she has won, and the long running and continuously popular short fiction review magazine, The Short Review  (visit site to subscribe), that she established and still edits. A former science journalist, Tania Hershman’s first book, The White Road and Other Stories, was commended by the judges of the 2009 Orange Award for New Writers, and included in New Scientist’s Best Books of 2008. Tania is Grand Prize Winner of the 2009 Binnacle Ultra-Short Contest, and European winner of the 2008 Commonwealth Broadcasting Association’s Short Story competition. Her stories are published or forthcoming in, among others, Nature, Metazen, Necessary Fiction, SPECS, Contrary Magazine, Smoke long Quarterly, The London Magazine and Electric Velocipede, and a week of her flash fiction was broadcast on BBC Radio4. Tania is currently writer-in-residence in Bristol University’s Science Faculty and has been awarded an Arts Council England grant to work on a collection of biology-inspired short fiction. There is more news about Tania Hershman at her website.  She also blogs about writing at Tania Writes.

Tania Hershman

Rumjhum Biswas: Was there an exact moment in your life as a science journalist, when you said to yourself, “Okay, I’m going to be a fiction writer from now on?”  Or is it something you always meant to do at some point or the other?

Tania Hershman: It was what I’d wanted to do ever since I was a child, but I was very good at science at school and so got funnelled in the direction of science and travelled that way for quite a while until, finally, that little voice in my head got louder and louder. “What about fiction?” it kept saying, “Weren’t you going to write fiction?” I loved being a journalist, but I really wanted to make things up, legitimately! I love telling myself stories.

RB: Did you write poetry and/or fiction in school? What were your favorite subjects?

TH: I didn’t get on with English classes in school at all. They didn’t seem to have any connection to creativity.  The Lit side seemed to be pulling apart texts and guessing what the author’s intentions were. That felt ridiculous to me.  I just wanted to read the story. So no, I didn’t write fiction or poetry–poetry repelled and terrified me! I loved maths, I loved the right-and-wrongness, the black and white of it. Of course, once I got to university to study Maths and Physics, it became utterly incomprehensible!

RB: Did you have any one as a child who encouraged you to write or felt you ought to be a writer?

TH: No, not really. I don’t have that story about the inspirational teacher who etc.. etc.. Nobody did that for me. My parents were very academic.  They hoped we’d become scientists, doctors, lawyers and yet they’ve ended up with me, the fiction writer, and my brother the musician. If it’s meant to be…

RB: You obviously love short stories and flash fiction. What is it about the short form of story telling that attracts you?

TH: I am totally addicted to short stories and to flash fiction. Something about them, something about the very brief , but incredibly intense swallowing-up into a complete world makes me happy, even if the story is dark or depressing. When I’m feeling down, feeling ill, feeling annoyed, I can read a short story and it makes me feel better. I think they should be prescribed medicinally. I think perhaps I like short stories’ implicit awareness that life has no neat endings, that it is comprised of many very small moments, all in their own way powerful and important, and that life is messy, it’s unclear, it’s about reading between the lines.

RB: What makes up a great piece of flash fiction?

TH: I am drawn towards the most surreal flash fiction, bordering on prose poetry, the pieces that play with language, that mess with my head, that force my imagination to work overtime. I am a reader who wants to be made to work hard. I love great flash stories that leave 90% to the reader to work out, ones that aren’t necessarily rooted in reality as we know it. I think the very short form lends itself well to this. Great flash fiction is when the story fits the length–it’s not straining to be something longer but compressed to fit into a tiny box. Everything has its ideal length, I believe.

RB: Do the same rules apply to longer short stories?

TH: I don’t believe in rules.  There are no rules at all when it comes to fiction. What works for one may not work for another. The more short stories I read, the more I see all the things a short story can be, and I am delighted to be constantly surprised by what writers do with them. But as with flash fiction, a short story has its own length, I think.

RB: What genre do you enjoy reading most? Do you have a preferred genre, in terms of reading?

TH: Tell me a good story, I don’t give a hoot what “genre” it has been labelled by the market, and it is the market which does the labelling. I’ll read feminist sci fi, paranormal chick lit, humour, historical, traditional, absurd, surreal.  If it grips me, it grips me! I really do love to read everything.  Since starting the Short Review, I’ve asked for review copies of short story collections I’d never have looked at before, and I’ve loved having my mind expanded. I wish we had no labels, I spent years missing out on great stories, great novels, great books, because they were shelved in corners I didn’t frequent. Shame!

RB: Where do you think is the short fiction form headed? Do you think the traditional short story is going to morph into flash and micro fiction?

TH: I don’t think anything will radically change. I think–and hope–people will write whatever they want to write. Perhaps flash fiction and micro-fiction are gaining in popularity  because they are a quick read and it can often be quicker to write, but I don’t see any shift from short stories towards shorter and shorter. From sifting and judging various short story competitions I can see that the “traditional” short story popular and that the majority don’t seem familiar with more experimental fictions, so maybe this might change if flash fiction gets more exposure.

RB: What is the shortest short story you’ve ever written so far?

TH: Hmm! I think it was “Heart” in my first collection, 50 words!

RB:  Do you have a favorite time and place for writing? And, the beverage that kick-starts your muse?

TH: Nope, absolutely no favourite time or place.  These days I find I’m so busy that I get a lot of writing done during workshops that I am teaching, I write alongside the participants! I do have a writing shed in our garden,  crammed full of short story collections, and now that the weather is getting better (maybe!) I will attempt to get down the garden and go and work in there. But I work very well in cafes, drinking coffee or tea.  I do think cake is a great stimulus. Sometimes I listen to music, sometimes not. I often write stories in my head, and sometimes I even write them down!

RB: Do you have any favorites among the flash fiction that you’ve written?

TH: Ah, now, that’s like asking me to pick one child above the others! I think all writers are probably in love with the last thing they wrote. The last thing I wrote was a flash story, “Stopwatching,” for the National Flash Fiction Day anthology, and I rather like it. I would also mention “Vegetable, Mineral,” which I wrote a few years ago and is in my new book, because that marked a real turning point for me in my writing–that was really the first “minimalist” story I attempted: no character names, no definite setting, really stripped down. It won the Biscuit 2007 Flash Fiction contest and was a finalist in the Pank 1001 Awesome Words comp, so that really emphasized for me that I was heading in a new and interesting direction!

RB: Do you have a favourite flash fiction writer or a bunch of flash stories that you’d recommend?

TH: That’s a very hard question because there are so many. Instead of naming one writer, I’ll point you to the excellent Sudden Fiction and Flash Fiction Forward anthologies that were published in the 1980s and 1990s, and were where I first read flash fiction. They are brilliant places to begin, and to see all the things tiny short stories can be and do.

RB: As a judge  of several writing competitions, what are the things you look for in a very short story? What sets one good piece of writing above another?

TH: I am looking for something distinctive from the outset. Voice is one thing that grips me, either the main character’s voice or the narrator. I like to be thrown straight into a story, without preamble or introduction, unless those things are vital to the story. I am a fan of spare language, of, as I mentioned above, being made to work hard as a reader, so stories that tell me too much may well turn me off. Leave room for me, the reader, inside your story and, most of all, trust me that I can understand subtlety, that I get the hints you’re dropping, that I can fill in the blanks. Don’t tell me what your story is about (or what you think it’s about.) Trust your reader, she’s smarter than you give her credit for.

RB: Any examples of bad flash fiction writing that you’ve come across? What are the most common mistakes writers make in flash fiction?

TH: Hmm, the less successful flash fictions I’ve read are those that don’t feel as if they are the right length, that they should be much
longer but they just, well, stop, because the writer really wanted to write a flash story, or because the writer bottled out just as the going got interesting. I very often see stories that end just as the story is getting started, not just flash stories but longer stories too. Flash fiction is a very short short story, but also it’s own beast, I think. Do something within that tiny frame that is different, use the constraints. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but flash fiction doesn’t mean stripped down, doesn’t mean you get rid of characters or dialogue or description or back story. I think it takes a lot of practice to write, and it’s worth reading a lot of flash fiction to get a feel for it.

RB: Tell us about The Short Review.  What inspired you to start it and what about its early days?

TH: It happened in November 2007, a few months after I signed a book deal with Salt for my first collection, and just about a year before the book was due out. I was feeling quite stunned by it all, not able to write much, and so I thought about what I could do for the short story in the meantime. I realised that though we writers often blame publishers for not publishing short story collections, one of the issues was that the collections that are published are not getting reviewed, so no one knows they exist and therefore they don’t sell. I thought I’d do my small part to try to rectify that, and invited a few writer friends to join me and write reviews. I had NO idea it would grow the way it has, with over 50 reviewers worldwide! We are offered many more collections for review than we can handle, which is a great thing. And author interviews are a huge part of what we do, mainly because I’m so nosy.  I want to know these things… like “how does it feel to know that people are buying your book?” I would like to expand The Short Review‘s activities.  I have been doing it for four and a half  years for the love of the short story as do my deputy editor and all the reviewers.  I am trying to find funds to streamline our operation and perhaps even pay everyone a little. A girl can dream! Anyone want to write us a cheque…?!


Rumjhum Biswas is a writer currently based out of Chennai, India. Her fiction and poetry have been published in print and online journals and anthologies all over the world, and she’s received some awards and accolades in India and abroad for her work. This year, she won first prize in the Anam Cara Writers’ Retreat’s Short Fiction Competition.


by Gay Degani

Darlin Neal  photograph by Sara Floyd

Darlin’ Neal is author of the story collections Elegant Punk and Rattlesnakes & The Moon, both published by Press 53. She is the 2011 winner of DH Lawrence Fellowship from the Taos Summer Writers Conference, their highest honor. Her short stories, essays, poems, and reviews have appeared in numerous journals, magazines, and anthologies. Her first collection, Rattlesnakes & The Moon, was nominated for numerous awards including The Story Prize and The Pen Faulkner Award. Her short stories and nonfiction have been nominated a dozen times for the Pushcart Prize. She serves as faculty advisor for The University of Central Florida’s award winning undergraduate literary magazine The Cypress Dome, and for The Writers In The Sun Reading Series for which she brings in writers of national caliber each semester. She is Fiction Editor of Florida Review.

Flash Fiction Chronicles: Let me first say you have some amazing stories here. It’s quite a moving collection. Your dark side appeals to me, your world view.  So speaking first of the overall work, you’ve created a sphere of soulful, vulnerable characters whose lives are filled with looming danger. It’s the threat, the restraint you show in the stories, I really like. There is authenticity here too and poetry threaded through the tragedies and impending tragedies, yet there is something here too that is hopeful, not a lot of hope, but hope.

Elegant Punk“Once Upon a Time on Bourbon Street” and “Upstairs Boy” are just two of the stories that stick with me. These children, lost in the world, move on and through all that threatens them, not necessarily to a better life, but they keep moving, surviving, making due and that is real.

What has goaded you into writing about these people, young people mostly, who suffer and survive on the edge?

Darlin’ Neal: It is the world of the children I grew up in, a world at once magical and protected by my mother, and filled with dangers because of the poverty around us. I was the oldest sister with four younger brothers. When I left home I was 17 and I mourned for my brothers. I worried so what would happen to them. The two youngest have spent a lot of time in prison.

My stories are fiction, but these conditions inform them and the way drugs are taking so many people away right now with the heroin problems, with the horrors of meth.

There was one time in particular in my life where I myself was so hungry I couldn’t think, where I had holes in the bottoms of my shoes. It was a fairly brief time when we’d gone back to Mississippi. I felt quite clearly the way we can become lost. I felt that fear, for me it would have been losing out on my education. I am the only one in my family who went to college, one of only two who finished high school and there is such a danger in that. Anyway somehow I held on always to the core of myself. The danger for all these children is losing that core, that center where there is magic and love and openness to wonder.

FFC: Extrapolation! This is one of the surprises about writing, that we as writers do not need to experience everything we write about, but that we must be able to extrapolate and expand from what we do know.

Much of the world you write about comes from this process of pulling from what you have learned about life and this brings me to what your writing has, “universality.”  Good writing offers “truths” that resonate. “Unseen danger” struck me as being a core truth throughout your work. Can you talk about your process? How you take something you’ve experienced and transform it into something we can all relate to? For example the idea of being locked in a trunk—trunk as babysitter—in “Upstairs Boy.”

DN: This is something that comes up in teaching undergrads a lot. You’ll hear someone say, “I never experienced anything like that so I can’t relate to it.” But they can. To me that’s what’s sacred about writing: the creation of empathy. Reading literature is that bridge into shared experience, that immersion inside another’s moment.

As a writer I put myself not only in that trunk but inside of Carter’s visceral experience. He was not only my lens but my visceral filter. You don’t have to have ever been in a trunk, to have had a mother who prostituted herself to survive, who went to prison, to know what that feels like in a lived moment. You can experience by going into a sensory moment with someone you’ve come to know in a story. Imaginative narrative holds so much more power to create empathy, so much more power than an expository essay in this way because we are allowed a sense of lived experience as opposed to looking at someone from the outside and trying to put them in a box of judgment or pity.

FFC: You’ve beautifully defined how we engage with the page as a reader, why we read, the experience of being “with” someone, “be” someone outside of our own lives. How do you as a writer prepare yourself to bring that to your readers? What comes first, the idea, the character, an image, a detail? And where—and how—do you take it from there?

DN: For me what comes first is always a character or an image and very often dialogue. If an image: who is seeing this? From there I listen and stare, listen and stare and become focused on the entry and maintaining that patience.

FFC: From Misty Blue Waters, to Angelina to Maggie to Lizzie in “Once Upon a Time on Bourbon Street,” you’ve created characters striving toward the reality they want.  These young people are living on the edge and yet they have a certain resilience. Your process seems to come from pondering and being patient. In what way have these characters surprised you? What future do you see for them? How do they reflect your outlook on life?

DN: I follow my characters, especially in the early drafting. I enjoy the process of exploring through them so it’s always an adventure of surprises. There’s a little bit I see and know when I start out but it’s like pulling a curtain aside and entering into the life, seeing farther and farther in, understanding more and more layers of the moment. These characters you mention, they are survivors, which is a something I see only now that you mention them in a group to me. They are fighters. I wish for them that they find safety somewhere, that they learn to take care.

FFC: We care about them too because you’ve made us care.  Thank you, Darlin’ for discussing Elegant Punk with us.