CRAFT


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.

____________

 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 Rohini Gupta

A previous version of this post appeared on Rohini’s blog.

Rohini Gupta

A friend asked a question: Why do you write?

I thought about it and I had no answer. Why do I write?  I have been writing all my life—but why?

It’s rarely easy. Writing itself is an effort of will, usually a balancing act, caught in the cracks between work and family commitments. You must take whatever moments you can, steal time to write, cutting out other pleasures in a desperate and sometimes secret attempt to squeeze a little more writing time from an almost empty tube.

You might drift into many professions because it just happened that the opportunity presented itself but not this one. Writing is a treadmill—if you are not running desperately in place to keep up you will get thrown right off it.

Money is not the reason either. It is not a profession which leads quickly to an obese bank account. Sometimes, as in poetry, it leads to no bank account at all. Poetry is notorious for it—poetry and money just don’t live in the same town.

Does that ever stop poets from writing? Of course not.

So what is it? Success?

Very few writers achieve success. In the days of traditional publishing, many writers never got published. In today’s age of self-publishing you can self-publish and then just disappear in the flood of other books.

A handful achieve fame and fortune. But that has never stopped anyone from writing.

So what is it? What keeps you going, year after year, alone, doubting yourself, struggling with the knives and daggers of rejection, wounded over and over and yet picking yourself up from the gutter again and again, reinventing yourself when all doors seem to be shut, losing yourself in another story while the old ones moulder unread.

It’s a minor miracle that anyone lasts in this field—but some do.

You grow two skins. One is tender, soft and sweet, with the poet’s fingertip sensitivity and the openness to the flow of words.

The other is tougher than rhinoceros hide—you need that when the rejections begin. Make no mistake, you will always need the rhinoceros hide—even success cannot insulate you.

So why go through all that and write?

Why?

You do not write for the externals, for the gains. It is something internal. The act of writing itself.

You don’t write for readers. Your readers are usually your writing friends and writing group members. Will you have millions of fans one day? You can hope but you cannot be sure. Even successful writers are not sure.

All books are not equal, even by the same writer. Writers say that a book from which they expected great success flopped and another, written in a spare thoughtless moment, somehow caught the reader’s imagination. Readers may love you or ignore you, but will that stop you writing?

So why do you write?

You write to write.

Something magical happens when you write and especially when you write poetry or fiction. You connect to the creative part of you, what you might call the Muse.

It opens a universe. It takes you out of yourself. It fills you with magic quite unknown in this prosaic, unimaginative world. For that magnificence what will you not do?  Everything else is dwarfed by those starry moments.

So perhaps, that is the answer to why you write.

You write for companionship—your own.

You write to meet yourself at the deepest and most profound level. The ancients called it ‘yoga’—union with yourself.

You write because without words to express it, the world is brittle and prickly and almost unlivable.

You write to survive and you write to become.

Most of all, you write because it gives you wings.

____________

Rohini Gupta is a writer living by the sea in Mumbai with a houseful of dogs and cats while working on short stories, poetry and a book.

 

by Len Kuntz

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Even though a plethora of flash fiction exists today, I’ll admit to not having heard of the term until four years ago.

I was a little stunned by the discovery of this new-found form, the way you might be to all of a sudden learn that there’s an extra room in your house, a room filled with delicious treasures.

Browsing internet sites around 2010, I saw that talents such as Kim Chinquee, xTx, Kathy Fish and Meg Pokrass were turning out tight pieces of writing as short as 300 words—writing that was not poetry, though it often had a similar lyrical quality. Some of the pieces were even fully formed, containing a narrative arc and plot, while others sizzled instead, like Molotov cocktails left tossed in the air, leaving the reader to decipher whatever decimation might occur.

The sudden rise of flash fiction’s popularity is, in a way, akin to that of Twitter—both of them seemingly rising up out of the blue while quickly securing a place in our consciousness, should we choose to take an interest.

And much like Twitter—or Flash Chat for that matter—flash fiction is about brevity; about the ability to say something noteworthy or meaningful in a very confined space.

I don’t know if flash fiction’s appeal is, as many have said, a result of our shortening attention spans, but whatever the reasons, I’m happy to see how vital the form has become.

The allure of flash, for me, is that it mirrors many of the writing adages I’d been taught years ago:

  • start in the middle of the action;
  • make every word count;
  • hit the reader between the eyes;
  • murder your darlings;
  • deliver a unique, singular voice.

Along with these challenges, I love the notion of getting in and getting out, the idea of swiftly painting a picture that is clear enough to let a reader know what’s happening, yet one that also allows readers to fill in the blanks vis-à-vis their own imagination.

I’m far from an expert on the art form, yet I do think the best flash writing gives readers pause after they’ve finished a piece: it stops them from going onto the next because something shocking or wholly unexpected has just happened, or perhaps the writing was simply so taut and sonically rendered that there’s no other choice than to let it simmer, almost soul-like inside you.

Of course there are all types of flash fiction and just as many kinds of motivation for writing it.

I most like being able to take scraps of memory or biography, or maybe just a lovely-sounding line, wrap it in fraud, and then pepper gunpowder throughout the piece. The title of Kevin Samsell’s flash and story collection, “Creamy Bullets,” is a good description of the type of writing I hope to create: creamy bullets. Bullets that bite, while also having the tendency to simultaneously soothe.

While reading novels, we live with the characters for weeks and years, getting to know their idiosyncrasies and foibles. Novels transport us and often occur over great time spans. Reading a novel requires an investment. It demands patience and diligence.

Flash fiction is usually the opposite of all these things. Flash is a shotgun blast, or even a single piece of shotgun shrapnel plucked from within the greater blast. It’s immediate and jarring. The investment necessary is simply a few minutes.

We are lucky today, to see the proliferation of both styles of writing; having our cake and eating it, too.

To the novelists, I say, Bravo! Keep at it. We need you.

To the flash writers, I say, Keep dropping those bombs. Write on. We need you more than you might know.

____________

Len Kuntz is the author of The Dark Sunshine available from Connotation Press and at editor at the online literary magazine Metazen. You can also find him at lenkuntz.blogspot.com.

 

by Andreé Robinson-Neal

Andree Robinson-Neal

Is it me, or is it hot in here? The FFC thermometer is about to pop, thanks to all the great content we had in June. Sarah Crysl Akhtar started us off with a bang as she hammers home some issues about the best of times, the worst of times, and originality. Susan Tepper‘s UNCOV/rd shed light on Doug Holder and his poetic views on city living. Kathy Fish lit a fuse as she told us about the beautiful flashes of life. We had a moment to recover from that, and then Julie Duffy hit us again with her detailed lesson on genre; Julie’s piece this month was a bright introduction that offered five great points on developing and maintaining our voice within the confines of what publishers want.

Gay Degani upped the ante by having a heated discussion with a few writers on the importance of reading to develop a writer’s voice. Speaking of voice, Sarah Crysl Akhtar took us back into the archives for a  look at a tasty bit of flash. But voice is not enough: Samuel Snoek-Brown turned up the heat with his piece on the importance of place.

Christopher Bowen settled us down and turned our focus to a topic that should burn our professional coals: contracts. His enlightening interview with Tyler Crumrine at Play Inverse Press offered some insight on what we might want to look for before we sign on the dotted or digital line.

But then Sarah Crysl Akhtar turned it up again by fanning the flames with her trip back into the archives to revisit The Horses to remind us how horror should make us feel.

We were able to put away our oven mitts as the month ended, but the last notes were anything but cool. Alyssa Ast reminded us that as authors we are responsible for promoting our published works and pointed out a few easy ways to optimize our author websites. And in case you were busy burning up the pages or keyboard during the month, Jim Harrington gave us a thorough list of flash fiction market updates.

Summer is just beginning so pull out your parasol, mix up a big batch of fresh lemonade, and set a spell; FFC will bring you a fresh serving of heat as we celebrate July.

____________

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 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!

____________

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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