advice


by Andreé Robinson-Neal

If it were possible to have your eyes closed as you read, it might also be possible to feel, smell, and hear the story. You might be saying to yourself, “I can hear the story if I buy an audio book,” but that is not what is meant here.

Anjali’s fingers were hard despite the softness of the cream she was kneeding into Reena’s face. They were a worker’s hands, the hands of a woman who washed clothes, did the dishes and cooked the meals for the family along with her work as a beautician.

Abha Iyengar’s Many Fish to Fry is filled with touchable, smellable, hearable moments on each page. She takes us to Paharganj, a neighborhood in Delhi, to meet a variety of memorable characters, including Reena Vardharajan (which was shortened to “Rajan” because “Vardharajan” is so long, isn’t it?) and her family; Parvati, Reena’s part-time maid (who is a barely tolerable and weak replacement for Murali, the former full-time servant); Anirban Dasgupta and his wife Proteeksha, the Punjab/Bengali couple who live next door in Flat No. 69; jewelry maker Sanjay Singh and Neeru his wife; and the ever-effervescent private detective Harinmoy Banerjee. There is also the matter of fish, interwoven intricately throughout.

Thanks to her beautician, Reena’s love for jewelry making has been rekindled. She meets Sanjay as she embarks on her new career as a part-time business woman. Making jewelry provides her an outlet, something her traditional mother, traveling businessman husband, and busy children struggle to understand. She takes over the dining room table to craft her designs and spends afternoons visiting Sanjay and other merchants in the roadside shops to the dismay of her husband.

When [Reena's] seriousness with her work began to interfere with her attention to the little details around [her husband Anand], thing she had taken care of earlier because she had nothing else on her mind, he expressed his disapproval.

“You are getting too involved. Why do you need to do all this running around at your age? … I miss the hot rotis you make for me. you have no time to talk to me … and the dhobi just can’t iron shirts like you do … did.” …

She had expected him to be highly supportive.

But when a Hilsa fish shows up unexpectedly on her doorstep, followed closely by an unexpected meeting with Harinmoy Banerjee, a colorful private investigator and self-labeled Super Sleuth who rings Reena’s door looking for Proteeksha, the next door neighbor from Flat No. 69, Reena embarks on an adventure filled with intrigue, laughter, tears, and gossip. And of course, fish.

Iyengar skillfully mixes language and cultures into a delicious stew that will suit any taste. She intermingles traditional Hindi and Bengali words and phrases (there is a glossary of terms in the back for the less initiated) with Western terms familiar to any English speaker of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Her words come off the page to tickle the palate. The sound of the traditional words and phrases, when read aloud, are lyrical to the ear: phrases such as Na rehega bans, na bajegi bansuri (“If there is no bamboo, there will be no flute,” meaning “If the source of the trouble is removed, then the trouble won’t occur,” according to the glossary) and Daane daane pe likha hai khane wale ka naam (“On each morsel is written the name of the person destined to eat it”) are just two examples.

As Chris Galvin Nguyen, the writer of the book’s forward indicates, Many Fish to Fry examines Indian social issues and suggests what it is like to move beyond tradition through the use of “real-life trends of language and culture in India.” For weeks after reading it, you will be challenged not to end every sentence with Harinmoy’s classic Is it not, dear?

This is not Iyengar’s first book, but it is her first with Pure Slush. She has a number of other published works worth checking out and can be found at www.abhaiyengar.com and www.abhaencounter.blogspot.in.

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Andree-New

Andreé Robinson-Neal got bit by the writing bug back in the late 1970s while watching Rod Serling and reading Ray Bradbury—both of whom are everyday inspirations; although she has worked in education for more than a quarter-century, she has never been cured of her penchant for speculative fiction. Find some of her flash fiction at starvingartist.com. She writes under the name AR Neal, who will hopefully one day be identified as a famous NaNoWriMo participant.

by Tara Laskowski

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Last fall, SmokeLong Quarterly ran a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to redesign our 13-year-old web site. The campaign was more successful than we anticipated, raising nearly double our initial goal. I’ve been working ever since on the new design and content system, and we launched the new site earlier this month.

We are very happy with the look and feel of our site—and the reviews so far have been pretty positive amongst our readers and writers. In the process of redesigning and in the conversations we had about the site, I came to realize that what was important to us at SmokeLong was probably counterintuitive in many ways to the direction that online publishing is going. We were designing a site that in many ways valued the traditions of print publishing.

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Why, oh why, you ask, would we want to do a thing like that? The answer probably lies in the origins of SmokeLong itself. I wanted to stay true to many of the elements of our old site that Dave Clapper designed when he launched the publication in 2003. I wanted simple navigation. Good archives. Most of all—I wanted the stories grouped into issues.

When we started our web site redesign, we browsed a bunch of different online literary journals to get a feel for what we did and did not want. We definitely liked the sites best where the navigation was easy and clear and where the stories—for lack of a better term—just looked pretty.

So it is important to me that our issues remain clearly defined, and that our readers know what issue a particular story is from and how to find the other stories in that issue. Much like a print publication, I want our readers to be able to ‘flip back’ to our table of contents whenever they need to. When they read an author’s interview, I want them to easily find other interviews in the issue.

It is also important to me that our writers and their stories are front and center. We want their bylines and bios clear and easy to find. We spent days poring over fonts to make sure that our readers’ eyes wouldn’t go bleary. We made sure their interviews are easy to find, and that each story is paired with original art.

Here’s another little touch on the site that makes us old-school: at the end of every story and interview, we’ve got our logo as an end mark. Do you know how much I love that end mark? Sure, it is probably only necessary in a print magazine to signal to the reader that they don’t have to turn the page to hunt for the rest of the article. But it makes me happy.

So yes, when you check out the new SLQ, you’ll see we have tried to combine the best elements of print and online publications. You can read within each issue like you’ve picked up the book, but you can also, at your fingertips (and without taking up any bookshelf space) browse any other issue we’ve ever done or search for any author we’ve ever published. That’s pretty sweet, isn’t it? We prefer to keep our innovations within the stories themselves, stunning you with content, not technology. Our goal is for our readers to lose themselves in the writing, not the web site.

Check out our latest Issue 47 here and email us at editors@smokelong.com with any questions, comments, free dinners, or just to say hello.

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Tara Laskowski has been the editor of SmokeLong Quarterly since 2010. Find out more about her at www.taralaskowski.com.

by Sarah Crysl Akhtar

Sarah Akhtar

Overheard recently on a comments thread: “Don’t mind if you submitted there and they didn’t take your story. The editor at […webzine] makes strange choices…”

That’s the beginning of a dangerous conversation. Trust me, kids—you don’t want to go there.

Not that I haven’t thought that way myself, for sites that have rejected me, and sites that haven’t. For the latter, of course, it’s always about someone else’s story.

But I get over it fast.

There’s only one important rule in publishing. The editor is the customer—and the customer is always right.

Or to put it another way—it’s their party, and they get to control the guest list. Don’t whine about it.

The editor chooses what the editor wants to choose, and doesn’t have to justify that to anyone. If the magazine is maintaining a readership, and/or growing, then that editor is doing just fine with those choices.

A quick note on the side, here–publishers read widely. They’re especially curious about competing sites, and there’s a fair chance that they’ll eventually run into someone who’s been disparaging their judgment, even on a site that seems far, far away. Equally bad for your reputation–the editors on the site where you’ve posted your comment have read it too. Gives them a feel for how you might be to work with.

I’m not shy about posting my own opinions on stories. But I keep my opinions relevant to those stories, or to an issue that seems relevant to the site in general and appropriate to the comments thread.

Of course, expressing dislike for a story does somewhat imply a judgment about the editors who selected it for publication. That’s an inescapable hazard. But they’ve opened the door by allowing a comments section in the first place. And that feedback is valuable for many reasons.

So—remember the point of a critique. It’s to truthfully explain what worked for you, and what didn’t, in someone else’s work, or just to give your thumbs up or thumbs down, if you don’t feel like elaborating. But leave the disparagement of editorial choices out of it. Their invitation list is entirely their own business.

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Sarah Crysl Akhtar’s shtetl forebears gifted her with the genes that impel her to make much from little. So of course she writes flash fiction, cultivates orchards on her windowsill and bakes fabulous shortbread. Her son gives her what’s immeasurable—the best of all possible worlds. (Less miraculous fruit of her labors has appeared on Every Day Fiction, Perihelion SF Magazine, 365tomorrows and Flash Fiction Online.)

 

by Jeff Switt

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Are you struggling with your short fiction pieces? Those stories in the 500-word to 1000 range. Are you receiving less-than-glowing remarks from your contemporaries? Too many revision requests from site editors? Maybe flat-out rejections? Perhaps it is time to go back to shorter stories.

“Every word must count.” Right?

But what about those adverbs you dearly need to follow those verbs to make sure the reader feels the impact of the moment. The adjectives thrown in like sprinkles on a cupcake to make the setting perfect.

Yes, that’s what I’m writing about.

Let me share my experience with writing flash fiction.

I started short. Really short. 25-word short at a site called Nailpolish Stories, where the task is writing 25-word stories using the colors of nailpolish as the titles. Piece-o’-cake you say? Maybe. Maybe not.

It is not a simple task to pen twenty-five words which have a beginning, middle, end, a character(s) and something resembling a plot.

“Every word must count.”

Those words haunted me (in a good way) as I wrote my first drafts. Then I questioned every word, one word at a time as if through a microscope. Out with that word; in with a new. Then, looking for better words. Out with clichés; in with original thinking. Bad adverb. Bad adjective. Bad dogs!

I finished a handful of stories and submitted. One was accepted. I was elated. In a few months, a few more stories were accepted and published. From there I moved on to a 50-word story site. Then to sites with 100-word limits.

As I expanded the length of my stories I approached each paragraph with the same care and diligence as I did my 25-word stories. Tight. Tighter. Tightest.

Now I am writing 1000-word stories with some success and satisfaction. When other writers remark that I packed so much story using so few words, I know I have accomplished a critical short-fiction goal. One of my favorites is Going Nowhere at Every Day Fiction the story of a carjacking romp going from bad to worse.

Let me close with a quotation from a forgotten source: “If you’re happy getting what you’re getting, doing what you’re doing, then there’s no reason to change.” If you would like to “get” more recognition from your writing, “get” more satisfaction, why not give writing 25-word stories a try. How long can that take? ?

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Jeff Switt is a retired advertising agency guy who loves writing flash fiction, some days to curb his angst, other days to fuel it. His words have been featured online at Every Day Fiction, Out of the Gutter Online, Dogzplot, Boston Literary Magazine, Shotgun Honey, and several other short fiction sites. His latest venture is A Story in Three Paragraphs.

 

by Andreé Robinson-Neal

Road Kill CollectionThere is something about the term “roadkill” that catches the eye, particularly when it’s on the cover of a book. And when the poor animal in question happens to be a stuffed bunny, there is no doubt that what is contained between the front and back covers should be investigated.

Jon Sindell’s The Roadkill Collection does not disappoint—a turn of the last page leaves the reader wondering what hit them. He meanders across miles of emotion and causes sharp intakes of breath, bursts of laughter, and shakes of the head. For example, in “The Muffin Man,” Sindell gives us a glimpse of a girl’s experiences with homeless ministry and how an innocent gesture can cause the path to turn.

In Gregory’s tent, I lay on his shoulder. He smelled like liquid soap and earth. He laid his hand on my belly so gently, I could almost feel a baby in there. (“The Muffin Man”)

A parental nightmare of a different kind appears in “Victory Torch,” where the main character crashes (and burns) in the hallowed halls of the Ivy League.

Sindell conquers many subjects, from love to gardening to sports, and back again. One of the shorter pieces called “That’s Not Love?” takes the reader on a swift trip through the less sensual side of parenthood and thin-walled apartments. The angst of barely concealed disappointment and hatred rings through in “A Zinzinnati Red”, while the depth of a mother’s love is apparent in “Insidious.”

Who loves this country. You think I don’t? Think this purple heart don’t mean anything? That it don’t mean a thing that my name’s Schmidt, and some of the guys I shot coulda been Schmidt’s? … First one guy hits his fist in my cheek, then they all join in … I spit out a tooth, and out my blood pours. Commie red. (“A Zinzinnati Red”)

There is sharp wit in this book that leaves scars. In “One Clear Shot,” the reader is treated to graduation day and a mom who’s waited for just the right moment to get a little closer to even with her ex-husband. She delivers a verbal “mortal wound” that takes the soul of her victim in style.

The love of the game (baseball), nature, and the great writers of history all speak clearly though the stories presented in Roadkill. While this is Jon Sindell’s first flash fiction collection, it will hopefully not be his last.

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Andree-New

Andreé Robinson-Neal got bit by the writing bug back in the late 1970s while watching Rod Serling and reading Ray Bradbury—both of whom are everyday inspirations; although she has worked in education for more than a quarter-century, she has never been cured of her penchant for speculative fiction. Find some of her flash fiction at starvingartist.com. She writes under the name AR Neal, who will hopefully one day be identified as a famous NaNoWriMo participant.

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