Archive for September, 2012

Rumjhum Biswasby Rumjhum Biswas

The Jim we know is the Markets Editor of Flash Fiction Chronicles – Flash Markets Page, and the man who poses Six Questions For. . .  writers and editors in his blog. You can read his stories on his blog, Jim’s Fiction. In Jim’s own words, he “discovered flash fiction in 2007, and has read, written, studied, and agonized over the form since.” But how many of us knew the Jim that was a band director at the elementary and high school levels for five years before he decided teaching school-aged kids wasn’t how he wanted to spend the rest of his life?

While living in Albany, NY, in the 70s, Jim played in the house band for a local summer theater. He got to back up top performers from the era, including Rita Moreno, Carol Channing, Pearl Bailey, Ben Vereen, Bob Hope and Tom Jones. What a blast! He also played with the Albany Symphony and a number of other groups in the area.

In Jim’s own words: “I was born and raised in southern central New York Sate. I’m married, have one married daughter and two grandsons. I earned a BS in Music Education, an MS in Music Education, with a concentration in performance (trumpet), and, fifteen years after this degree, returned to school full time and received an MLS in Library Science. After eleven years in Albany, my wife was transferred to Rochester, NY, and four years later to Buffalo. It was then I returned to school.

Two years later, I began my career as a librarian. Subsequent transfers took us to Orlando, FL, and Dallas, TX. We moved to Huntersville, NC, in 2005 after we both decided to retire early and move near our daughter. She wasn’t too keen on the idea (she hoped we’d return to Florida so they’d have a place to stay when they went to Disney World) until she realized she and hubby could get free babysitting for a date night anytime they wanted! I took a year off to recharge before I began to write. Given my musical background, it shouldn’t be a surprise that my first love is classical music, followed by jazz and good old 70’s and 80’s rock and roll. ”

Thank you Jim for letting us see this other side of you! I understand that you are currently taking a break from the six questions  after having interacted with 747 editors and publishers since the first post in December 2009. Bear with us at Flash Fiction Chronicles, as we felt that it was high time we belted out some questions for you!

Rumjhum Biswas: You say that you discovered flash fiction in 2007. Please tell us about your first reaction to this form.

Jim Harrington: My first reaction? It might have been Alleluia! I didn’t write much until I enrolled in a Masters’ in Music Education program. For one class, the final grade was determined by five papers. I remember getting the first one back with a grade of C and the comment “too short.” Each paper after that got longer–in word count, not content–and I got an A in the course. :) Later, I had to write a pre-thesis (I chose to perform a recital instead of writing a full thesis). The professor handed it back to me with the comment that it was short–only twenty-five pages long–but he and one other professor he asked to read it couldn’t think of anything I’d left out. So, when I came across flash fiction, I knew it was the form for me, one in which concise writing was expected.

RB: Do you remember that first story you read? Please tell us a bit about your early days of reading flash fiction.

JH: I don’t remember the first story I read. Actually, at first, I spent more time reading about flash than reading actual stories. Once I did start reading stories, I read a variety of genres to get a feel for what each had to offer.

RB: Who were your favourite flash writers then, and has the list changed since?

JH: Since I was reading stories from many journals in the beginning, I didn’t concentrate on certain writers. I remember reading a few of Gay’s stories at Every Day Fiction. Jeanne Holtzman was in the first writing group I joined. I always looked forward to reading her stories. Dow Ford was another writer in the group I liked very much. Yes, the list has changed, but there are too many I follow to list here. There wouldn’t be many, if any, names that people who read this wouldn’t know already.

RB: What was your first experience writing flash like? Have you written other forms of fiction and also non fiction?

 JH: A blast. My first published story was “Yesterday’s Promise.”   It came from a prompt to choose one of three titles. Yesterday’s promise” clicked with me. I spent a few minutes thinking about the kinds of promises people made to each other and decided on a husband promising his wife he’d go on a diet. I don’t remember how the story developed from there, but it sure went in a strange direction.

My wife was a controller for Sears, and we moved a number of times as the company consolidated various departments. Shortly after moving to Rochester, NY, I bought my first computer. It was a Kaypro 64 luggable (a portable, but not one you could rest on your lap). The main reason I purchased it was because it was the first computer to come with an Office-like bundle of software. I was a stay-at-home dad and spent a few hours each day teaching myself how to use the machine and the software. I decided the best way to learn was to create something. So I developed one database to track our spending and another to organize coupons. I also taught myself to program in Basic and wrote a simple game of Yahtzee. I got a bit carried away with the word processor. I had just read the deadly sin series of books by Lawrence Sanders and was so inspired I wrote a 60,000-70,000 word detective novel. My wife still has it in a drawer somewhere. There’s another mostly-done novel lurking on my current computer’s hard drive that I doubt anyone will ever see.

I wrote a novella (or maybe a novelette?) a couple of years ago called The Towers of Morton   to send to family and friends as Christmas presents. The idea for this work started as a flash story with a tale too big for 1,000 words. I have published a handful of short stories.

I’ve written a lot of non-fiction (although some would probably categorize them as fiction). I wrote the user’s manual for a piece of software written by a friend. Shortly after that, I returned to school full time for a second Masters’ Degree in Library Science. I ended up being an automation specialist. Part of my job was to train other librarians how to use computers, which required documentation. I also worked in a corporate library and wrote a number of proposals, reports and, again, training materials.

RB: What is your favourite flash fiction from the many that you’ve written and why? Please take us through the creative experience.

JH: I can’t pick just one. My favorites tend to be the ones that contain a hint of humor like ”Do Unto Buzz“ and “What’s a Father to Do? ” or ones that use an unusual format, like “There’s a Rule for That” and “Testing, Testing.”

When I get an idea for a story, I spend time thinking about it and (sometimes) jotting down a few notes. For “Testing, Testing,” an opening phrase came to mind — “I awoke sweating like a.” I wrote down things that would cause someone to sweat, including some bizarre ones. I crossed out the “normal” responses and attempted to limit the final list to one. That’s when I got the idea to write the story in the form of a multiple choice test. Next I needed a reason to cause someone to sweat and ended up with a nightmare and a list of things that might cause someone to have a nightmare. So, I had a beginning and the start of a middle that, hopefully, would lead to an end–even though I had no idea what that would be yet. If research is needed to improve the accuracy of an element in a story, I wait until I’ve finished the first draft and pondered the story a bit. This ensures I don’t waste my time looking up something that may not end up being a part of the tale.

That’s pretty much my writing process. Anyone who reads my stories will notice that many of them are in the crime/mystery/horror genres. I understand the first two, since that’s what I like to read for fun. I’m not sure where the horror tales come from. I’ve never read a lot of horror stories. Heck, I’ve yet to make it through an entire Stephen King novel!

RB:  You have interviewed scores of editors and publishers in your six questions blog. What according to you do they most commonly encounter from submissions, both sets – the ones they accept and the ones they reject.

 JH: Most editors say they look for good writing and stories that hold their interest (i.e., stories that provide an original approach to a theme and ones that do so in a polished manner). As for those they reject, I was shocked to read the biggest complaint was that writers didn’t read the magazine’s guidelines. I’m one of those nerdy types that actually reads the manual. On my initial visit to a site, my first stop is to the guidelines page. I want to know if the zine and I are a fit–as either an author or a reader–before I get overly involved with what is published. If a site only accepts stories about space zombies, it’s not someplace I will be submitting a story. The second most expressed complaint was about sloppy writing–poor grammar and lack of attention to detail.

One of the reasons I didn’t like writing when I was younger was because I had a poor grasp of grammar. This was true to a point in 2007 when I began writing flash, but I made the choice to correct the problem. It was a two step process. First, I bought a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style as a reference source. Next I grabbed a couple of novels and read them for grammar, especially in dialog, and word choice.

RB: Do you have any favourite magazines on flash? Can you tell us why you enjoy them more?

JH: There are so many fine publications out there, that I don’t really focus on one or two. Currently on my iPhone, I have Smokelong Quarterly, Pure Slush, Liquid Imagination, Storyglossia and Fictionaut bookmarked (I usually read a few stories while walking on a treadmill), but the list changes every few months.

 RB: Who were your favourite authors as a child?

JH: When I was in high school, I remember reading a lot of Hemingway and Steinbeck. During my junior and senior years of high school, the librarian and I had our own book club where we’d suggest books for each other to read. I remember reading The Old Man and the Sea. I imagine there are a number of school libraries where this book isn’t allowed on the shelves now.

RB: Did you always know that you would write? (If so, who were your first mentors etc.)

JH: I hated writing, mostly because I was grammar-phobic. Is that a word? It should be. And writing was/is a slow process for me. I like writing 50-word stories because I can finish them fairly quickly, although, some may take me 45 minutes to an hour to get the writing to the point that I’m wiling to share the story with others.

As for mentors, I’d have to say Pam Casto and the members of her Flash Fiction-W critique group. It was the first group I came across that dealt specifically with flash. I received many helpful comments from the members and found many of Pam’s posts enlightening.

RB: Tell us a bit about your writing routine. What is your writing den like?

JH: Writing routine? Did you say writing routine? Well, it used to be that I wrote every afternoon for two to three hours. I know. You wonder why the afternoon. I tried writing in the morning, but my mind kept wandering off to all those other things that needed to be done. So, now I do them first and write after. Life has gotten in the way the past couple of months, so my routine hasn’t been as routine as it once was. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get back to “normal” in the fall.

As for my writing space, I work in a bedroom converted into an office. I sit facing a window that looks out over a green space that I like because it allows me to stare at something besides a blank wall when I need to let an idea or scene percolate.

 RB:  Where do you think the future lies for the various forms of flash fiction? And will paper books go out of fashion?

 JH: I don’t see paper books going away anytime soon. According to a 2011 New York Times article, there were 2.57 billion books in all formats sold in 2010, only 6% were e-books. I imagine this percent will increase year-over-year, but it still should take a long time before e-book sales overtake paper.

As for flash fiction, I see this form growing in popularity, if for no other reason than there are still millions of readers and writers out there who are unaware of its existence. E-books will help fuel the rise in popularity of flash, as more authors publish their stories in this format.

 ______________________________________

Rumjhum Biswas is a writer currently living in Chennai. She has been published all over the world, and her work has won prizes and commendations in India and abroad, including first prize in the Anam Cara Short Story Competition June 2012.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Jim Harrington 

Market Added

Editor Interviews Added

Contest News
Ghosts, goblins, vampires, and werewolves. What sends chills down your spine? Sharpen your pencils because Wisconsin Life is holding a flash fiction ghost story writing contest. Submit an original 600-word ghost story by October 7th, 2012.

Learn more here.

View complete markets listing.

______________________

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.

Gay Deganiby Gay Degani

A friend and I were wandering around Vromans Bookstore a few years back when we found ourselves in the reference section (dictionaries, thesauri, and The Elements of Style) and we both started fingering various and sundry books on writing.  She’d just started writing and asked me if there was any particular book she should buy.  I told her, “You don’t have to buy any.  I can lend you some.”

“That would be great, but I’ll buy something and you can borrow that from me,” she said.  “Which one don’t you have?”

I stared at the shelves and started pulling forward books that I owned, saying, “Well, I have this on plot and this on character, oh, and this one by John Gardner.  Before long there were more books poking out than tucked in.

The truth was and still is, I am a book junkie and I’d spent several periods of my life trying to “get myself back into writing” and each of those periods brought with it a need for new books to deal with renewed insecurities.

When I finally “got serious,” I decided I would write movies since I loved movies and I didn’t want to be the only person in Southern California not writing movies.  I bought Syd Field’s Screenplay.   What I had struggled with in the past was producing stories with decent plots or story arcs.  Field’s book, which many have dismissed as mere formula, was an excellent introduction to the idea that in order to write with emotional impact  one has to engage a reader in the story, leading that reader through the story with some kind of thread.  An arc doesn’t always produce itself without the author’s conscious help.  An understand of Aristotelian structure is a handy tool for a writer to have in her pocket.  Two other favorite books came from that time: Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman and Story by Robert McKee. Oh and along with everything Joseph Campbell, came The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.

Some of the first books I glombed onto were those to keep me at it which meant I bought Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, Anne LaMott’s Bird by Bird, and Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.  This will give you some insight into just how insecure I was.  All three helped me better understand that writing is a practice (Goldberg’s words) and that we have to live it every day in some way.

I eventually decided as most writers do to write a novel.  That meant a need for more advice and more encouragement.  The books I remember that helped most included One Writer’s Beginnings by Eudora Welty (a heroine of mine along with Flannery O’Connor), The Art of Fiction by John Gardner (classic), Making Shapely Fiction by Jerome Sterne (more about structure), the now out-of-print The Art and Craft of Novel Writing by Oakley Hall, Stephen King’s On Writing (the great mystifier demystifies), Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft by Janet Burroway (a little plodding but very good), Jerry Cleaver’s Immediate Fiction (straight forward practical and fabulous insights), Ron Carlson’s Ron Carlson Writes a Story (this is my go-to when I have to write a story and I am stuck), and more recently Turning Life into Fiction by Robin Hemley.

I’m sure I’ve left a lot of books out that influenced me at the time, but these are the ones that I have remembered as I write this.  Maybe I’ll go out tomorrow to my office in the garage and check my shelves and see which ones I can pull out from the rest.

Now for some miscellany:

Smokelong Quarterly, Issue 37 is out!  There’s lots to read and the artwork is terrific.  Look for stories from featuring Simon Barke, Patrick Allen Carberry, Sarah Carson, Simon Jacobs, Will Kaufman, Harry Leeds,Lindsey Gates-Markel, Adam Padgett, Young Rader, Sarah Carson, Matt Rowan, Joseph Spece, Jon Steinhagen, Aaron Teel, Dan Townsend, Eugenio Volpe, Ryan Werner, and Bess Winter.

2013 AWP Conference & Bookfair and All Around Good Time Party is coming up and we’ll be there. I’m going this year and so are many of the Smokelong Quarterly staff.  We have a table!  Sooooo…. we want to meet you!!  Here’s the info: the 2013 AWP Conference will be held at the Hynes Convention Center and Sheraton Boston Hotel on March 6 – 9, 2013  Dates: Early bird registration ends: October 31, 2012, Sheraton Boston room block opens for conference attendee reservations: September 10, 2012, Sponsorship deadline: October 19, 2012, Regular registration: November 1, 2012 – January 18, 2013

workflowy.com  If you are like me, you have trouble keeping your lists straight and up-to-date, or even worse, they become coffee stained coasters.  There’s a new application out there in the ether and it’s free called Workflowy and basically it works like an outline except you don’t have to remember what letter, number, or roman numeral you need to keep things ordered.  It has its own unique system.  Check it out at workflowy.com.

 

 

 

Aaron Teelby Gay Degani

AaronTeel is the author of Shampoo Horns, winner of the Sixth Annual Rose Metal Press Short Short Chapbook Contest. His work has appeared in Tin House, Smokelong Quarterly, Monkeybicycle, Matter Press, Brevity Magazine, North Texas Review, Side B Magazine and Art Prostitute, among others.

Gay Degani: First let me say I really love this little book. A whole world exists inside its spare 55 pages along with characters that stay with the reader. There’s Cherry, a 12-year-old boy with red hair growing up in a trailer park, his “one and only friend” Tater Tot, his crush Lupe, and Clay, Cherry’s juvenile delinquent brother, each one helping us to see the contrast between childhood innocence and harsh adult reality. These stories are all connected, yet each is complete in its own way.

I’m wondering, Aaron, about the genesis of Shampoo Horns. Did you develop these stories—and characters—over time without realizing how interconnected they were or did you set out to tell this particular story, Cherry at the juncture between child and young adult, as a flash series?

Aaron Teel: Thanks, Gay. That’s nice to hear. It started out as a series of self-contained non-fiction flashes about my own experiences growing up in a trailer park in Texas. Two of those were published around 2007. I was reading Speak, Memory at the time, and I had this idea that I wanted to write my own kind of Nabokovian memoir with a lot of lush sensory detail and description, but in a completely different setting. I thought it could be interesting to show the trailer park experience through that sort of lens. I wrote several pieces in that vein, and then sort of hit a wall with it and put it away for a long time. When I came back to it, I realized it needed some kind of narrative thread or central symbolic event for the pieces to spin around. A tornado just made the most sense.

GD: Stories spinning around a tornado!  I can’t resist the word play. But seriously, you’ve pulled these pieces together into a complete work of fiction. Interesting, of course, to all writers is that these stories were originally memoir. Can you talk a little about how you handled memory v. imagination? In other words, this now reads like fiction, so what happened to the events and characters during the rewriting process in terms of what you remembered and what you invented?

AT: Perversely, making the switch to fiction allowed me to see the characters more clearly than I had. They didn’t want to behave like the people they were based on, so letting them out of that box allowed them to act and react to their environment it ways that felt authentic but also heightened. The world in the book is kind of fantastic, but only because it’s seen through Cherry’s eyes and his perspective. The reality of the place is kind of dreary and depressing, but his perception of everything is so heightened it takes on a kind of hyperreal aura. I started to think of it as magical realism, but without anything magical actually happening, apart from the sleeping widow who may or may not have actually existed.

Shampoo HornsGD: I notice exactly what you are talking about— the sense that everything in this world—is in “Hi-Def Technicolor.” Part of this comes from the mix-up of time, the somewhat non-chronological time frame with small repetitions. These repetitions functioned similar to the way rephrasing a thesis works in an essay, reminding the reader of what is important. Can you talk a little about the structure of your chapbook, how you decided where each story would work the best?

AT: “Flight,” the penultimate story, takes place in the moments immediately following the first/title piece. That’s the frame that makes everything else fall into place. They’re also the only two that are in present tense. Everything else leads up to or follows in the wake of this traumatic event. It was important for the coherence of the narrative that all the elements were laid out right from the start. You know pretty much everything that’s coming within the first three or four pages. It all pours out in the kind of compressed fever dream. That, and the fact that all the pieces are self-contained, even if they’re linked, gave me the freedom to hop in and out of linear time. The repetition of the dates relative to the tornado and the 4th of July, apart from any poetic effect, serve to orient the reader in time and, like you said, add emphasis and emotional weight.

GD: What do you feel is most important to your own story-telling: language or story arc? How do you see these two  elements working together?

AT: The sonic quality of the work is important to me. I spend a lot of time and energy on that. The aesthetics of the language in Shampoo Horns is something I worked really hard on. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about complex plot devices or ironic twist endings. It’s strictly character driven. I think that’s something that’s often missing from flash fiction collections. As evocative and precise as the imagery and language can be, writers of flash tend to present rough sketches of characters, often nameless and void of personality, in an attempt, presumably, to present a kind of universal void the reader can project themselves into. That can work OK for an individual piece, but over the course of a collection it becomes impossible to connect with or care about. So, to try and answer your question, I strive for both, like everyone does, or should, but I probably spend more energy on rhythm and language. Story craft, for me, comes out of having well defined characters and allowing them to act and react to their environments and circumstances authentically.

GD: “Sonic!” I love that. So much is discovered about a story when the writer stops and reads his piece aloud and doing that is only part of the language equation.

AT: Absolutely. The writer has to be cognizant of that. Even if the reader never hears the work read aloud, they’re going to hear it in their head. It’s only one part of the language equation, but it’s a really crucial one because, regardless of how artfully you turn a phrase or spin a metaphor, without rhythm the reader has to force their way through it. It becomes laborious and stunted. The rhythm of sentences serves the same function as the rhythm of a poem or song. It should draw you gently along, like the current of a river. I say gently because you don’t want to go overboard either. All that effort has to be invisible.

GD:What books have you read that have been the most influential in terms of word usage? What books literally “speak” to you?

AT: The only book I can point to as a direct influence on the sound and syntax of Shampoo Horns, apart from the aforementioned Speak, Memory, is Katherine Dunn’s immaculate Geek Love. I was twenty-one or twenty-two when I read that, and it may have been the first time I really fell in love with the sound of an author’s voice. All of my favorite writers are masters of rhythm and cadence, though: Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, (even in translation.) I’m hopelessly smitten with Zadie Smith.

My fellow Rose Metal authors are particularly adept at that trick as well. They Could No Longer Contain Themselves, A Collection of Five Flash Fiction Chapbooks, is a masterclass. Elizabeth J Colen and Mary Miller, who I’ve had the pleasure to get to know and read with, toe the line between poetry and prose with tightrope balance and grace. Hearing them read can take your breath away. Jess Stoner is another writer here in Austin whose work I’m jealous of. “I Have Blinded Myself Writing This,” out on Short Flight/ Long Drive, is an absolute stunner.

GD: Last question. What is in store for us, your readers, in the future? Another collection, a novel?

AT: I’m working on another collection of linked flash called Pop Gun War. A few pieces from that have been published in various journals. You can see those, along with the trailer for Shampoo Horns and other fun stuff at aaron-teel.com.

by Jim Harrington 

 Market Update

Curly Red Stories has a new URL and new focus.

 

Flash Fiction Anthology Call

For a forthcoming Norton anthology, Flash Fiction International, edited by Robert Shapard, James Thomas, and Christopher Merrill:

We are looking for contemporary very short stories in English or English translation, limit about 1,000 words. We usually reprint works already published, but will also consider original manuscripts.

Deadline: December 31, 2012.

Learn more here.

 

View complete markets listing.

______________________

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.