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by Joanne Jagoda

Joanne Jagoda

I suppose I owe a debt of gratitude to my young bitchy boss with her ice pick style of management. When I finally had enough of her poking away at me, I decided it was time to retire at the age of 59. So there I was, at a new juncture of my life, a youngish senior, trying to figure out what the hell to do with the rest of my life. I found several volunteer jobs right away, including teaching English as a second language to Chinese seniors and working with children in a poor school in East Oakland. I needed something else. I knew I could only exercise, go out to lunch, and shop for so many days until I’d be bored. I needed to find something to keep me feeling vital and alive. What would open the magic gate to lead me on a journey I had not ventured on before?

I had always liked to write, and as a history major and English minor had done endless term papers, but I never attempted any serious creative writing. I was fortunate, or maybe a better word is the Yiddish expression, that it was beshert or destined for me to find a daytime writing class, Lakeshore Writers in Oakland, which had a spot in the spring class. It was a writing workshop using the Amherst method. The class met Thursday mornings for two and a half hours. I was willing to give it a try. One class…it couldn’t hurt. If I hated it I just wouldn’t continue, lose the deposit, whatever.

I got to the class early that Thursday, chatted with the facilitator as the other women rolled in. We eyed each other. I was the oldest. What the hell am I doing here? I sat down on the mismatched chairs, clutching my lemon ginger tea listening to the instructions. We would write on three prompts during the class time, read our work out loud and give positive feedback to each other. We were to treat everything we heard as fiction. My first prompt, I still remember it … “write about hair.” Oh shit, I’ve got nothing to say. I take a breath, gulp my tea, stare at my blank yellow legal pad. Maybe I could write something about my daughter’s mane of wild curly hair which has always been a source of drama for her. It had a life of its own, and I had my story.

And that one class was enough. I was hooked. Who would have ever believed that I had words, and sentences, and images and memories waiting to burst forth out of me. It was as if I had new glasses on and could see for the first time. I started to look at things differently. I started to hear snippets of conversations everywhere which I wanted to incorporate in my work. I found colorful characters lurking in the supermarket checkout line, on the BART train, in the jury pool when I had jury duty. I went back to my childhood in my head, remembering the poppies Mrs. Mialocq used to give me over the fence and the neighbors down the street who had a drunken brawl and my tap dancing class. I wrote fiction, nonfiction, and found I had a gift to write poetry.

I had discovered a new world like some intrepid explorer stumbling upon the universe of literary magazines, online submissions and contests, and a whole new vocabulary of “simultaneous submissions” and “flash fiction.” I started to submit and was in a writing frenzy. I was like an addict hooked on a drug which gave me a fulfilling high. In the beginning, I had some surprising successes even placing in the Writer’s Digest contest with an honorable mention. I didn’t realize that was a pretty big deal. There were other first place and second place wins, and it was a thrill seeing my work published. Then came the Rejections…there have been plenty of those sometimes arriving on a half sheet of paper. I mean really, couldn’t they at least send it on a whole sheet?

Now five years later I am still on this writing journey, and there are days when it is not easy. The most difficult challenge is making writing part of my daily routine. This requires a steely resolve to make time to write no matter how busy I am and treating my writing as a job. It is easy to put it aside when life gets too full. I still struggle in believing in myself. There are days when I’m a “writer” not a WRITER. One of the nicest things that happened to me early on was when a friend who encouraged me tremendously held a “Salon” for me to read some of my work at a tea. It was a thrill to share my writings with a rapt and appreciative audience.

I have been fortunate to become involved with the website, Pure Slush, and have written a number of pieces, which have been published by editor Matt Potter, who lives in Adelaide, Australia. I am one of the thirty-one writers in his ambitious 2014 project where a monthly anthology will be published for the twelve months of 2014. Each writer takes a different day. Mine is the thirtieth of the month, and I wrote a mystery. It has been amazing to become part of a group of writers from all over the world. A reading is in the works for November in New York City, and I’m thinking of attending to read one of my chapters. Maybe then I will finally consider myself a WRITER and not just a “writer.”

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Since retiring in 2009, it took one inspiring writing workshop to launch Joanne Jagoda of Oakland California on a long-postponed creative writing journey. Since discovering her passion for writing, she has been working on short stories, poetry and nonfiction. Her work has been published widely online and in print magazines and anthologies including Pure Slush 2014; 52/250, a Year of Flash; Persimmon Tree Literary Magazine; Women’s Memoir-Seasons of Our Lives, Summer; and Still Crazy. Joanne was the poet of the month for the J, a Jewish news weekly. She continues taking writing workshops and classes in the Bay Area, enjoys tap dancing and Zumba, traveling with her husband and visiting her four grandchildren, who call her Savta.

 

By Andree Robinson-Neal

Andree Robinson-Neal

Back in January, Bonnie ZoBell interviewed Pure Slush founding editor Matt Potter and because FFC readers were interested in learning more about him and the Pure Slush chapbooks and authors, your intrepid FFC staffers grabbed Matt and threw a few more questions at him. Also, a number of his authors from the Year in Stories series came along for the ride.

First off, let’s hear from Matt:

So Matt, what was the seed for the idea of the Year in Stories project?

I was reflecting on my wish to have Pure Slush publish a book a month in 2013, and realizing very early in the year that this was not going to happen. I first thought one story a day, 365 writers … and then thought, no. But 31 writers each taking the same day of the month, allows writers to develop longer stories across a wider arc. And it snowballed very quickly from there, and the next day, I think, I sent emails asking writers to be involved.

We are now about halfway through the project; has it gone as you envisioned?

As of April, there were 92 stories yet to be submitted and signed off, so while 2014 June Vol. 6 was released in early April, 273 of the 365 stories have been written and accepted. Parts have been more difficult – writers saying “Hey, I need to change something in a story I submitted some time ago” – while other parts have been easier. Five of the 31 writers have finished all their stories, with a few not far behind. Some however, are still only half way through writing all their stories. How best to approach these writers and hurry them along is individual, and a challenge. Sometimes it feels a little like I’m cracking a whip.

Have there been any surprises?

The biggest surprise is the unprompted diversity in stories and styles. Each story cycle really is different from all the others. If I was to do this again (and I’m not) I would start even earlier, 10 months earlier rather than seven months earlier.

What hints (topic ideas, voice, etc.) can you give the readers (and perhaps those who would like to contribute their writing) to your next project?

Come prepared to work on your stories. If a requirement is that the stories be written in the present tense, then write them in the present tense! Keep to deadlines and communicate with the editor. Once the twelve 2014 volumes are complete, I will be returning to 2 smaller projects I have put on hold for much of the last year.

There are plans for something new online in 2015, and another large print project in 2016 … so stay tuned. And in the meantime, Pure Slush is still accepting submissions for online publication in 2014. The theme is travel, and you can find details here: http://pureslush.webs.com/themessubmissions.htm#831675008

The Year in Stories would not have been possible if it weren’t for the authors who, well, wrote stories. We asked a few questions and here are the thoughtful responses from some of this year’s writers:

Why did you want to be a part of this project?

Mandy Nichol: First off it’s a terrific concept, and Matt is fabulous to work with. I usually write very short stories, so to continue to write about the same characters, to get to know them more than I usually would, seemed like a great way to push beyond my normal. I’ve always played it pretty safe and felt it was time to have a peep over the parapet. Now there’s no way I’m jumping out of an aeroplane but with this project I thought hey, this could be my leap into the blue yonder.

Shane Simmons: Quite simply, I noticed the initial posting on the Pure Slush Facebook page, which outlined the idea for the project and was calling for participants. My first thought was “I love this idea!” My second thought was that it seemed ridiculously ambitious! A single person (Matt Potter of Pure Slush) collating and editing THREE HUNDRED AND SIXTY FIVE STORIES himself (!) but the opportunity to get involved alongside thirty other creative minds, all working on this mammoth project was the huge attraction.

What’s been the toughest challenge?

Vanessa ParisFor me, the toughest challenge has been maintaining the narrative while ensuring each individual story can stand alone. It’s harder than I expected, because each time I start a new month, I have to think, “Okay, what do I have to make sure is included – or at least implied – or risk losing the reader?” Sometimes it’s easy stuff, like making it clear that two characters are in a romantic relationship, but other details are more subtle. In those cases, not only does it have to be conveyed again, you have to find a new way to do it so it doesn’t get redundant over the course of months. Also, there were points where I wished I could go back and tweak a detail or two from previous months, so it would work better with the month I was working on, but that wasn’t possible.

Jessica McHugh: I’ve encountered a handful of challenges along the way, but I think I’m experiencing the toughest right now, at the end. I’ve written the last two stories in my serial, but I haven’t revised them yet, partly because I don’t want to let go. Unlike most short stories, the serial allowed me to spend as much time with my main character, Edward McKenzie, as I do with novel characters. I know him. I care about him. Edward was plucked from a failed piece I wrote when I was nineteen, and after so many revisions that still led to rejections, I thought I might never have the chance to introduce him to the public. But thanks to 2014: A Year in Stories, he’s experienced more than ‘a day in the sun.’ It gave me the opportunity to explore his personality so much more, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. It going to be tough saying goodbye.

Was there a point where you thought “I must be crazy for agreeing to do this?”

Michael Webb: Towards the end of the project, it got more difficult to come up with events for each story that were plausible and compelling in and of themselves while still furthering the overall yearlong growth of the characters. It was like playing chess against multiple opponents at once.

What, if any, affect has this project had on your writing?

John Wentworth Chapin: I thought this would be a side project. It’s not. It’s a tremendous project, and it has swelled like a gas to fill its container: 2014. I am excited to see where it ends up. Moral of the story: be prepared.

Lynn Beighley: I’m more of a short story writer than a novelist, and while these are essentially connected short stories, there is a feel of the novel about them. I’m learning.

What was the best piece of advice you received from Matt about your work through this project?

Gill Hoffs: I wish I could remember – to be honest, I usually absorb what Matt says so it’s hard to bear particular comments in mind.  When I first worked with him he sent me a lengthy email full of tips and advice which I printed off, highlighted, and taped inside my workbook.  I used to tell Matt working with him was like a mini-MFA!

But wait! There’s more!

Each writer answered all of these probing questions; Matt will be posting the full interviews soon so keep an eye on Pure Slush and his blog for details.

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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 Julie Duffy

JulieDuffyHeadshot200x300

In this series, we’re taking a ‘back to basics’ look at Genre: what certain genres encompass, what readers look for in a particular genre, how to write well (and terribly) in that genre. We’re talking to writers, editors and publishers to bring you the tools you need to succeed in genre flash fiction.

Science Fiction

Science fiction is big. Really big. Both in terms of audience and the many ways you can write fiction and have it called ‘science fiction’. It is also a mature genre, having come of age in the first half of the 20th century. Since then, its vast audience has had time to form strong opinions about what is and is not science fiction.

“Friendships have been forged and broken over the question ‘what is science fiction,’” warns writer Linda Nagata, with her tongue only partly in her cheek.

The good news is that, with such a large and popular genre, there is room for all flavors of story: from Star Wars-style ‘space opera’, to Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘hard’ science fiction, to ‘science fantasy’ time travel tales. Then there’s your post-apocalptic, near-future, military and sociological fiction, not to mention, cross-genre, bizarro and slipstream, all of which can end up under the ‘science fiction’ banner.

Is your head spinning yet?

What Are the Basic Requirements for Science Fiction?

Linda Nagata provided us with a good definition of science fiction,

“Loosely, science fiction is a story that involves some speculative or yet-to-be-invented technology.”

She goes on to qualify this: not every story involving gadgets counts as ‘hard’ science fiction.

“If magic or supernatural elements are present, I think of it as fantasy, even if technology is part of the story.”

The Twilight Zone is an example of this. Many stories revolved around technology, aliens or space travel, but there was never a technological ‘answer’ to the story’s puzzle. The mystery was supernatural, and so, while it appeals to the kind of audience that likes science fiction, The Twilight Zone is more properly called ‘fantasy.’

What Readers Want

Again, let’s remember that genre definitions have more to do with ‘helping the audience find stories they like’ than they do with ‘defining your work.’ With a focus on the reader, it’s easier to see how all these sub-genres fit under ‘Science Fiction.’

Science fiction readers tend to be looking for action (physical or mental), a story that challenges assumptions, and stunning, thought-provoking ‘what ifs.’ At the very minimum, says Nagata, readers will;

“…have a curious mind and be open to stories set in worlds that are not outside our front door.”

Most of all, however, readers want stories about interesting people who are facing up to new challenges (or perhaps old ones) in the face of the technology in the story.

How to Squeeze Science Fiction into Flash

In flash fiction, there is very little room to build a realistic world. Genres and sub-genres can help readers make mental shortcuts and understand what to expect.

“A reader has to have some common shared background with the writer in order to understand what he reads,” adds Mark Budman of Vestal Review. “This background comprises the language, the vocabulary, the experience, the culture, the history.”

Of course, relying too much on a genre’s tropes leads to clichés.

“If you’re seriously interested in writing science fiction,” says Linda Nagata, “you need to be aware of [the] diversity, at the least so you’ll know what the clichés are, and also so that you’ll understand the needs of different story markets. So read widely, and read a lot.”

She suggests that, because of the tightness of flash fiction, science fiction flash writers might rely on standard settings — “a present-day laboratory, a space capsule that has lost power, a post-nuclear-apocalypse wasteland—something the reader has seen before and can grasp without much explanation.”

Another way to make room for world-building is suggested by Michael Arnzen, flash fiction author and Professor of English at Seton Hall University.

“Start as close to the end as possible. Perhaps we are just one character decision away from an outcome, or one clue away from solving a mystery.”

Both approaches allow you to spend time following the characters through their emotional journeys.

And, to satisfy a science fiction reader, it’s not enough to throw in a bunch of gizmos and technobabble: the events in the story must make sense. Even in the champion-of-weird sub-genre of “slipstream,” the plot (and the technology) must follow the story’s own internal logic.

E.S. Wynn, chief editor of Smashed Cat Magazine, stresses that in slipstream stories;

The weird is important, but it must make sense. Stay with me—if a writer puts together a story that isn’t coherent, readers won’t be able to get into it. Plant dragons that breathe methane and fly through space? Cool, but make sure it serves the story. Telling us about your plant dragons and then writing a bit of grandma’s apple pie recipe into the story for “weirdness” isn’t going to fly, most of the time.

Just as in any science fiction story, one might say, ‘The science is important, but it must make sense.”

How to Write Science Fiction Badly

As with any genre, the worst crime a writer can commit is to be boring. It’s especially true in science fiction. As E. S. Wynn points out;

“Fans of the genre look for…newness, novelty, voices and perspectives they’ve never heard before.”

The second-worst crime is to unwittingly use clichés that make readers groan. Luckily, this second crime is easily avoided by, as Linda Nagata suggested, reading widely in the genre.

Reading voraciously in your genre also helps you develop a deeper understand of what it means to write in that genre.

“There’s a common misconception,” says Nagata, “that hard science fiction (my specialty) is all about the technology, with little good characterization. That simply isn’t true…the story needs to be about people living in those story worlds and the challenges they face because of the technology around them.”

Without interesting characters facing fascinating challenges, stories in any sub-genre of science fiction flash will fail.

As for the how to end a science fiction flash piece, Mark Budman cautions against “moralizing, clichés, puns for the sake of puns or poorly-executed jokes.”

And with that, I’ll resist the temptation to end this on a pun and simply invite you back next month for the next in our series on Genre.

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Julie Duffy writes short fiction and is the host of the annual creativity challenge StoryADay.org.

 

by Sarah Crysl Akhtar

Sarah Akhtar

It’s like the pangs of afterbirth. There’s your lovely story, ready to send out, and you can’t for the life of you think what to call it.

Happened to me once. Put a working title on a flash piece so I could at least submit it. Revised the title when I did the rewrite, but knew it was still a dud. The right one finally came to me, literally in the nick of time, shortly before the due date, so to speak. And to my enormous relief, one commenter remarked that the title was perfect for the tale. If she’d known how I sweated that one. . .

I’ve looked in some strange places for titles. I loathe, fear and despise mathematics, but my offspring has a gift for it. Go figure. And it so bothers me, being locked out of that world he inhabits so naturally, that with the bounteous help of Wikipedia, I’ve named a number of my stories for mathematical or scientific concepts. Those titles sounded so elegant, while making me feel closer to my kid. And strangely, they expressed just what I wanted to say.

Without the intuitively perfect title, a story’s luster is a little dimmed. And a bad or mediocre title may keep readers away from a piece they might have truly enjoyed.

If you’re struggling to name your story, take a little break. I once had to leave something alone for a couple of months, until my main character’s voice called to me so clearly that the right title fell naturally into place. It was frustrating not to be able to submit something I believed in and had worked hard on, but part of growing into your craft is recognizing when you haven’t fully achieved your intent, and waiting until you do.

Resist the urge to slap something on your story because you’re facing a deadline or just want to mark it as completed. You don’t want any child you love to go out into the world ill-named.

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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, Flash Fiction Online and Perihelion SF Magazine.

 

by Andreé Robinson-Neal

christinefandersonChristine F. Anderson is the force behind CFA Publishing and Media; of her many talents, she is a skilled marketer. After shopping her own manuscript, she gained deep insight into the process of bringing a book from idea to manuscript to bookshelf/ebook seller. She took some time away from her work to share insights on the value of marketing with FFC.

What is your relationship with writing?  How long have you been writing? What have you had published?

I have been writing since my earliest memory, including writing haiku in the third grade. I was alway one to journal, write letters, and keep meticulous notes in school. I wrote and self-published my memoir, Forever Different, in 2013.

What was your experience like getting published?

I had several contracts from various publishers, all who required an astronomical retainer for marketing services. With more investigation I realized that what they wanted was for me to do a lot of the work before submission, so I decided that since I didn’t have the type of money they were requiring I would try self-publishing.

What made you start your own publishing company?

I started Christine F. Anderson Publishing & Media in order to give authors who have a story to tell fair representation when it came to publishing and publicity and marketing.

Talk a bit about your marketing background; how did you decide to focus that experience toward the world of publishing?

I obtained my MBA (Masters, Business Administration) in Marketing from New York University’s Stern School Of Business in 1991 and felt that in order for a book to be well-represented it had to have a considerable amount of marketing.

Let’s face it: this is a saturated market, particularly since the advent of self-publishing opportunities. I utilize various methods, including  social media outlets, and have developed a plan that works for my authors.

Why is the marketing aspect so important for new authors? How does it differ in the small press or self-publishing market as compared to the larger market?

Since we are on content overload when it comes to the publication of books, it is important for new writers and those who are looking to work with a small press or to self-publish to develop their own unique brand. I encourage all my authors to be different. Dare to be different!

What marketing skill or advice do you believe is most important to new writers?

The most important marketing skill I can suggest to a new author is to start by doing the research: who is the audience of your book? Start by knowing that and the rest of the marketing process tends to go smoothly.

What have you seen as one of the biggest obstacles for new writers wishing to get their work to market? How do you see yourself helping them overcome this obstacle?

I think the biggest obstacle facing writers is the lack of guidance; the key is to publish good work and I feel that accepting mentoring and guidance is vital to success. I would like to think that my authors can learn from my experiences since I am a writer, I self-published, and already made all the mistakes!

In your experience, in what areas do traditional marketing strategies fall short for new and existing authors?

I think the old adage of “build it and they will come” is nonexistent in the pro-publish market; taking an ad out and waiting for sales just won’t cut it. In this era, communication and contact are key and if you are not accessible and don’t stay in tune to current demand, you are dead in the water. Thank the good Lord for the dawn of social media, because it gives us access to that market demand in ways we never had in the past. It has helped answer a lot of the prayers of marketing executives.

What one piece of advice would you give to writers looking to publish?

I would tell them to write from the heart and to tell their story with the intention to inspire others!

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Christine F. Anderson obtained her MBA in Marketing from New York University’s Stern School of Business in 1991. She has a long successful corporate career working for such companies as Citicorp and MGM Grand, Inc. She became an independent author in 2013 and while working on self-publishing her memoir, Forever Different, discovered a void in affordable book publishing and couldn’t find a publisher that provided a pro-active and  aggressive publicity and marketing strategy, so she decided to launch Christine F. Anderson Publishing & Media. It is Christine’s desire to give a voice to fellow authors’ works and guide them through the difficult world of publishing and promotion and assist them in achieving the greatest level of success with a fair business model. Her motto is “Tell your story to inspire others.”

 

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