advice


by Andreé Robinson-Neal 

Andree Robinson-Neal

Did you open the window? If you hadn’t noticed, it is spring. You’ve probably had your head down, hands to the keys (or pad and pen), writing away for your next submission; now is a great time to pause because you may have missed some great information, interviews, and updates from your fellow writers at Flash Fiction Chronicles.

The month started with Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s tips to banish writer’s block. She covers everything from mythical beasts to birthing babies; don’t worry–every tip relates to writing. Susan Tepper gave us a glimpse into the head of someone who seems like he never had writer’s block in her UNCOV/rd interview with Stephen V. Ramey, who shared about his new collection, “Glass Animals,” among other tidbits.

If you’ve been locked to your desk for too long you may have missed the announcement for the latest “String-of-10″ contest. You will have another chance to enter the next one, but in the meantime, read about the list of winners and Jim Harrington’s Q&A with Gay Degani, the finalist judge. Gay is a prolific writer herself and in March had one of her collections serialized over at Every Day Novels.

Nancy Stohlman gave us a reminder about that manuscript from November (remember NaNoWriMo, 2013?) in her overview of NaNo’s youngest cousin, Flashnano. If you need to do something with all that flash you’ve written over your winter hibernation, Bonnie ZoBell‘s interview with Mike Young from NOÖ Journal and  Magic Helicopter Press might be just the motivation you need to prepare a submission or two. If you need inspiration from some fellow flash fiction writers, check out a list of “why flash” from the mind of  Randall Brown.

Jim Harrington  offered some serious words to writers about conquering self-doubt (hint: self-reflection is quite an elixir!) as well as great tips on ending well (or at least ending at an appropriate place). Aliza Greenblatt interviewed Audrey Kalman, EDF’s Top Author for February, where you can find great pointers on commitment to writing. The month ended with a reprint of a 2009 FFC article on hint fiction; Robert Smartwood shares his thoughts on meeting your reader halfway along with a number of reasons why being a traditionalist is overrated.

As you see, FFC was busy in March and there is always more to come. Sarah, Susan, and others have already gotten started with April; get those windows open, let some light in, and get reading.

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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 Christopher Bowen

 “The publisher has sole discretion as to the design and appearance of the book after receiving input from the author.”

 This was the fifth item in the contract I shared with authors as publisher of Burning River’s line of chapbooks. It came from a document given to me by a pro-bono arts lawyer from Toledo. Look closely, in fact, look in the mirror or at your own contract.

My experiences in publishing and working with people making chapbooks was more than just an experiment to me, it was a lesson in how to treat people, and how, definitely, to create something beautiful.

Want, Wound

Every cover and manuscript of a Burning River title (the press is now defunct and functioning only as my personal blog) carried with it more than literary stories and poems, it carried a tapestry of conversations, cooperation, and a story unto itself. There was, of course, the designer. There was the printer, the author, the reader. And then there was the me.

I want to give some advice, with little expectation, that yes, as an author you should try to invest as much control into the design of your book as you did the writing. But also, that this is very much a capable endeavor. You are a capable person.

The pulp…

naturalhabitatcover

All the covers for the titles from the press came on the heels of images the authors not only recommended, but sought. A photograph from an old, major periodical for a cover? No problem. You will find a refreshed image from a 1970′s Economist as the cover to Burning River’s second chapbook, Michelle Reale’s Natural Habitat.

As a librarian and my friend, Michelle sought the original U.K. photographer out, as I was unfamiliar with international copyright and, yes, he granted rights to the original photo.

There were more than a couple books I sent small token payments, as well as copies, to the photographer or the artist. But more importantly than this, you have to understand that if you can or do decide to take a hand in helping design your book, that humans are social creatures. They want to be involved, but also, they want to communicate.

There were times where I digressed. The author digressed. The designer digressed. But in the end, I truly feel (speaking as an author) there is nothing more enjoyable or fulfilling than taking some reins in the production of your working book.

The search…

If you are at a loss of finding an image based on a google search and contacting the creator, there are many services out there that will grant you rights. They literally sell stock photos. Shutter Stock is an example. Another example may be found in an image I used for a small book trailer for Nancy Flynn’s A Coal’s Throw, as I wanted to test the form. It was a government poster of a Pennsylvania miner. Because government work is already in the public domain, Wikimedia Commons had it listed on their site. Pair that with a right to fair use of a soundtrack from the musician Moby, and I was able to put together a small, thirty second trailer for about five bucks through Animoto.

Lastly, and many authors do this, turn to the people you know, the artists and photographers already in your life or already inside you. Just be willing to give ground, if and when the time comes, for the sake of the project.

There were many times I had to take heed of the designer or the author. Even in the dimensions of the books themselves. Even, sometimes, in their price points.

This is some of what I’ve learned as a small press publisher. I’m sure there could’ve been more, and there certainly is, but then I wouldn’t be as satisfied in my new skin as simply an author.

_____________

Bowen

Christopher Bowen is an Ohio author and culinary chef. His recently released personal fiction chapbook, We Were Giants, is available from the publisher, Sunnyoutside Press. He blogs at burningriver.info.

by Susan Tepper

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Nathaniel Tower is a writer, teacher, runner, coach and juggler. He is the founding editor of the literary magazine Bartleby Snopes. His short fiction has been published in over 200 online and print journals and has been nominated for numerous awards. You can read more from Nate on his blog.

Susan Tepper:  So what are you like to live with?

Nate Tower: I’m not hard to live with. I’m not the type of person who leaves the toilet seat up or tosses knives slathered with peanut butter in the sink. I try to be tolerable. Yes, I spend too much time on the computer, listen to loud music, and sometimes keep strange hours, but I do my best not to bother anyone. Honestly, I think living with me is pretty easy. Every roommate I’ve ever had has found me agreeable.

Nagging Wives

ST: Hmm… I often wonder how the toilet seat up became a  yardstick for what is  a good or bad husband? At any rate, you wrote a  story collection  titled  Nagging Wives, Foolish Husbands that  I would call dramatically funny. I’ve never used this term before but I like it for your book. Are you naturally funny? Does your wife laugh at you? With you? At you in secret?

NT: Dang, what a loaded question. Let me address the toilet seat first. I’m not sure why anyone would ever leave it up. Think of all that goes on in that bowl. Do you really want your whole bathroom constantly exposed to that? Toilets aside, I can now focus on how funny I am. I taught high school English for 9 years, and my students thought I was hilarious. At least one told me that I should’ve been a comedian instead. Looking back, maybe that student was just telling me I was a lousy teacher. If I did a stand-up act, people would demand a refund. But I wouldn’t give them one. But being a comedian isn’t about being naturally funny. I guarantee that 75% of the people I’ve met have laughed. My wife is one of those people. She laughs with me at least twice per week and at me at least once per week. I’d feel confident saying that 50% of my jokes make at least one person laugh. I’d also say that people laugh at me when I’m not trying to be funny with at least 50% success.

ST: Well, you certainly have your stats in order. Since we’ve never met in person, I can’t vouch for your on-site funniness. But I can vouch for the book’s funniness, which totally slayed me. Political satire is at work in this collection. I’m going to “mask” one of your story titles, so as not to give a spoiler alert.

In your story The A Party, a husband and wife attend a particular event at the wife’s insistence. She seems a most modern gal, while the husband is rather conservative (at least by Northeast Democratic standards). You split husband and wife into two dissenting political ideologies. That not only made the story brilliant, and original, but added the ingredient most crucial to all fiction: tension.

NT: I’ve so rarely gotten political in a story, yet several people seem to think this is the best story I’ve written. My intent was never to write a political story though. I was focused on the challenges presented in the relationship. Of all the stories in the collection, this one probably has the most potential to offend. It has the equal potential to offend both sides of the issue. And maybe that’s the best way to write a political short story.

ST: Love is all about politics, though, isn’t it? Who wins which domestic war, who defends what principles (like the toilet seat), who gives up territories in acts of appeasement. You, as the writer, know this instinctively and that’s why these stories play out so well. Conceptually bringing to mind that film “Enemies: A Love Story.”

Your story Skydivers and Pornographers is a total humdinger. It is completely off-the-wall, yet I bought in to every word, every bizarre sexually charged scene. I wanted to meet Marcus, myself, by the time it was over. Can you give us a hint of where this story came from within yourself?

NT: Every writer needs a story where the main character is a porn star, right?

ST: If you say so, Nate. You have brainwashed me into going along with any story idea you develop.

NT: As for its origins, I think it follows a similar line as The A Party. You take two characters with very different ideologies/backgrounds/lifestyles. There’s your tension. You throw in some porn elements. Just imagine what it would be like married to a porn star. Seriously. What percentage of people would feel comfortable in that situation?

ST: None that I know! Or at least who’d admit it.

NT: Of course, that topic in itself isn’t wild enough. So we need a porn star who can “act” while performing astounding feats of physical endurance. Again, a story with what are essentially two so-called ‘enemies’ trying to work things out together, or gain the upper hand.

ST: I bet it was fun to write.

NT: A great deal of fun.

ST: What will come next from the inspiration of Nate Tower? Or do you prefer Nathaniel?

NT: In my daily life, I much prefer people call me Nate, but I like using Nathaniel when I am in author mode. It sounds more distinguished, doesn’t it?

ST: It does! Like Hawthorne, at the very least.

NT: Yes! I could see people, years from now, talking about Nathaniel Tower’s 21st century classic. But I can’t see anyone talking about the work of Nate Tower. Can you imagine a teacher asking his students, “So what do you think Nate was really trying to say with this talking wildebeest?”

As far as the next round of inspiration, I have a few things in the works. An on-going serial novel up at JukePop, Misty Me and Me, which, coincidentally, is kind of an adventure porno story. But not as dirty as it sounds. I also have a novel I’ve been tinkering with for almost 5 years now called The Funeral Attendee. Maybe I will get that all polished up this year. Lastly, I am trying to figure out what to do with my mini-novella, One-Time Use. It’s about a revolutionary new procedure called The Stas Penis that is billed as the future of sex: it enhances pleasure (for both parties), prevents STDs, and has a special feature to keep unwanted pregnancies to a minimum.

ST: Maybe you should get it patented.

NT: It may end up being the feature story in another collection this year. That new one would be a bit more wild than Nagging Wives, Foolish Husbands. If you can believe that.

ST: I believe… I believe…

_______________________

Susan-Tepper200wSusan Tepper has authored 5 published books. The latest is a novel in stories called The Merrill Diaries, from Pure Slush Books. She is a named finalist in storySouth Million Writers Award for 2013, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in fiction (2010), and nine times for the Pushcart Prize. Tepper is a staff editor at Flash Fiction Chronicles where she conducts the interview series UNCOV/rd. www.susantepper.com

by Sarah Crysl Akhtar

Sarah Akhtar

Good editors should be like God:  bringing forth miracles without showing their hands.

Do bad editors think they are God?

Do writers sell their souls in order to sell their work?

Are some writer-editor collaborations dishonest?  Is work marketed as Carveresque when it’s really Lishy?

Should there be two bylines?  Should the byline be the editor’s, “from an idea by…?”

I haven’t read Raymond Carver, but I recently read up on the controversy around Gordon Lish’s editing of Carver’s short stories.

It’s hard not to feel that Lish found the voice Carver was struggling towards.  The qualities in Carver’s stories that earned such widespread praise seem to be the work of Lish’s scalpel–or sometimes meat cleaver–with some purely Lish additions.

So–who was the great writer?  Is Raymond Carver, the author, a mythological beast, a chimera?  Or did Carver the writer just receive the appropriate therapeutic treatment that enabled his work to thrive?

It’s been said in columns here that writing is a business, and everyone involved–writer, editor, PR departments–are partners in marketing a work.

That’s true if you want it to be–if your overriding goal is to be published.  It’s urgently true if you’re trying to make a living by what you write.

In letters, Carver expressed anguish and deeply-conflicted feelings about his collaboration with Lish–and how his reputation as an artist depended on its continuance.  Recent reissues of Carver’s work, with the oversight of his wife/literary executor, present some stories in their original form and question some of Lish’s actions and choices.

Did Lish save an alcoholic writer’s flashes of talent and turn them into art?  Did he hijack Carver’s own vision but help both of them get rich?

I’d say the only truly honest way to reissue Carver’s stories would be by including an additional byline.  Lish took raw meat and turned it into a prime steak dinner.  To be angry about that now–after the accolades and the money–is like sending the plate back to the kitchen after you’ve polished off the meal.

I’m not likely to get rich from my writing.  But I have what Carver didn’t–editors who tell me straight-out what doesn’t work, suggest how I might approach the problem, and never alter  my own voice.  Thank you, EDF.  That’s treasure that can’t be quantified.

____________

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, Flash Fiction Online and Perihelion SF Magazine.

by Jim Harrington

jimharrington2

Today, I want to comment on two quotes by William Zinsser in his book On Writing Well. Even though he’s commenting on nonfiction, these quotes apply equally to fiction.

 Surprisingly often a difficult problem in a sentence can be solved by simply getting rid of it.

I know you’ve experienced this. So have I. You read through your story and always get stuck on the same sentence. It might be the rhythm, or a word meaning, or a phrase that doesn’t seem to fit. You try changing the offending word or phrase, sometimes successfully, other times not. Often, there isn’t a word to express what’s required by the story. It’s a metaphor or simile that’s needed. And occasionally, the solution is to get rid of the word or phrase (or maybe the entire sentence) altogether, even though it is the best phrase/sentence you’ve ever written. If the latter is the case, save it for another time. There’s a story out there somewhere that’s a perfect fit. You just haven’t written it yet. Or maybe that wonderful phrase is the perfect title to kickstart another narrative.

There’s not much to be said about the period except that most writers don’t reach it soon enough.

This is one of my favorite sentences in the book. I’ve read a number of stories lately in various critique groups where the only problem with the piece is that many of the sentences are so long and convoluted they get lost within themselves. From my point of view as the reader, it seems the easiest way to correct this is to get to the period sooner.

Yes, there’s a place for long sentences. I use them to set the mood of a story or to drag out a feeling just that little bit longer to build tension. A good mix of long and short sentences can provide an excellent reading experience. However, writing long sentences isn’t easy.

There may be times where that mammoth rolls through the fingers and onto the page with ease and makes perfect sense to you, the author. Now, how about the reader? What is that experience going to be like? I’ve read a few sentences that I’m sure make perfectly good sense to the author. After all, that’s the one person who knows the entire backstory of the character and the events that occur in the story. At least, I hope that’s true. But from the reader’s side, there may  be something missing. Perhaps this something, the purpose for the sentence say, would become clearer if the author broke the ideas presented into smaller, more digestible chunks. Doing this also helps the author ensure nothing is omitted unintentionally.

The other thing to consider when writing long sentence after long sentence is boredom or angst on the part of the reader. The mind needs frequent places to pause and digest–at least mine does. When reading a series of sentences containing phrase after phrase after phrase, I tend to fade out the longer the sentence goes on, wondering when I might finally be given a reprieve, when the sentence finally reaches its end point and I finally get to take a breath, as indicated by the period. Truth time: raise your hand if you began to wonder when in this millenium that last sentence was going to end?

I’ve mentioned my musical past before. Back in the seventies, I played trumpet in a number of local big band concerts (think the music of Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Count Basie). One evening, the drummer de jour played an extended solo; and as I listened, I realized something was missing–silence. The drummer had excellent technique and performed many technical riffs; but as a listener, I never got the chance to (figuratively) take a breath. While a good musician, the drummer didn’t realize silence is a musical note, too. If you listen to any of the great jazz drummers, you’ll notice they use silence to enhance the experience. In writing, this is the period’s job. It offers the reader the opportunity to take a breath and assimilate what has happened to this point before moving on.

I’m not suggesting you never write long sentences. On the contrary, they have a place in many stories in setting the mood and, as noted above, adding to the suspense. I am suggesting you consider such sentences carefully to make sure they are doing the job of moving the story along and not turning the reader off. As an example, here’s a one-sentence story by Len Kuntz I thoroughly enjoyed – http://inbetweenalteredstates.wordpress.com/2013/12/01/blood-orange-by-len-kuntz/.

______________________

Jim Harrington began writing fiction in 2007 and has agonized over the form ever since. His stories have appeared in Every Day Fiction, Liquid Imagination, Ink Sweat and Tears,  Near to the Knuckle, Flashes in the Dark, and others. He serves as the Managing Editor for Flash Fiction Chronicles. Jim’s Six Questions For . . . blog (http://sixquestionsfor.blogspot.com/) provides editors and publishers a place to “tell it like it is.” You can read more of his stories at http://jpharrington.blogspot.com.

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