CRAFT


by Sarah Crysl Akhtar

Sarah Akhtar

I thought I was writing a simple, direct piece of flash–protagonist has problem, and resolves it.

Found myself wrestling with one of the Big Questions–what does it really mean to be human?

And how do you express the capacity for complex thought when your characters have only a limited vocabulary?

More than with any other story I’ve written, for New Song (Every Day Fiction, 3/15/14) I had to look out at the world from my protagonist’s eyes, and try to understand how she’d express her own feelings to herself. A first-person story is either an interior monologue or an intimacy between the narrator and the implied listener. But how can a primitive character speak convincingly to us, through eons not only of time, but of transformation into what we’ve ourselves become?

I had to bring the reader into my heroine’s sensory world; write a powerfully visual story without much description; express intense emotions without elaboration. And I couldn’t impose on her the horrors of “primitive-speak”–think of every silly movie you’ve ever seen, where characters never, ever use contractions, and even three-word conversations sound like epic proclamations

If characters can be expected to use colloquial speech among themselves, we should resist the temptation to “translate” that into something that screams “not our English [or whatever language we're writing in]). Credit your readers with enough intelligence to figure that out, once you’ve set the scene for them.

Is recognition of the power of language–as thought or out loud–something that distinguishes us from other sentient creatures?

My protagonist uses her unspoken words as if she believes they might have almost magical properties:

Suddenly I hated Old Ma. I wanted to smash her.
But I was clever even in that moment. I stopped
my hand and sang my anger inside my head where
nobody else heard it.

Later, as she hunts desperately for her child:

I made a song to my baby inside my head. Where
are you? Don’t you feel me searching for you?

My character doesn’t just see–like all of us, she perceives in accordance with the priorities of her world:

That night the moon showed its whole face, eating
up the dark.

From the response of first readers during the editorial process, it seems I succeeded in what I hoped to do. One editorial commenter called it a “[v]ery visceral piece.” And it’s one of the very few of my stories accepted without a rewrite request.

My protagonist struggled to make sense of her place in a vast and largely unknowable universe. Perhaps the characters we write help us to do the same for ourselves.

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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 FictionFlash Fiction Online and Perihelion SF Magazine.

by Andreé Robinson-Neal

Andree-New

Like the tinder box that it is, FFC kept things all a-glow during the month of July. Jim Harrington got us started by sharing thoughts around the answers posted to the Facebook FFC New and Emerging Writers Group about music and the muse it draws or chases away. Susan Tepper ignites our collective spirits of justice in her UNCOV/rd with Pat Pujolas as they share around his book, jimmy lagowski saves the world.

And speaking of sparks, Sarah Crysl Akhtar took us back to a gem that caught her eye (and breath) in this month’s From the EDF Archives. She gives us a tantalizing sample of a morsel called Jellyfish. Go check it out for yourself.

We got a glimpse into the writing persona (and more) of Christine F. Anderson in a July publisher’s interview, where she shared her thoughts on marketing. John Towler then did a bit of marketing for Every Day Fiction, by way of a personal top 10 list of memorable stories (note that he passed the 5,000-story mark back in March!). Len Kuntz got us to the middle of the month with an insightful Why I Write Flash Fiction, in which he reminds us of the value of creamy bullets.

So, why do you write? Rohini Gupta answered the question in a way that delights writers: she answered it with more questions, each of which was insightful enough to spawn a post of its own.

Writers worth their salt will tell you that an important part of the process is reading. Fortunately for us, Gay Degani provided a list of readings that will certainly inspire. She offered a 103-entry list of readers’ choices from the 2014 Short Story Month entries.

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.

Now if that bright flash of wisdom did not get your attention, you need to go read all the others offered in a post that was chock-full of goodies from Sarah Crysl Akhtar about naming your story. As the month moved toward its end, we met Krystyna Fedosejevs, who shared her thoughts on what happens after you name that story and what her journey has been like in the world of flash fiction.

As you plan your next submission, why not learn something about Submittable? Christopher Bowen got some time with Submittable’s co-founder, Michael Fitzgerald. If it’s been a while since you have used the platform to send in manuscripts, you’ll be interested to read what Michael and his team have planned for Submittable’s future.

Julie Duffy brings us in sight of the end of July with her “nuts and bolts” approach to understanding genres. This month’s offering provides some thoughts on science fiction: what it is, what it isn’t, and what it can be.

It was a full month to be sure, and FFC never closes on a low note. Aliza Greenblatt interviewed Jessi Cole Jackson, the EDF Top Author for June. Jessi shared insight on her flash fiction work, as well as what it really means to live in the Garden State.

Be sure to stop by Flash Fiction Chronicles to catch up on all the articles, advice and information from last month and get ready for an exciting August!

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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 Ethel Rohan

Ethel Rohan2013

There’s a rebellious element to flash fiction. The form writes against longer works. That rebelliousness, the writing against, and the challenge of starkness in flash fiction hold great appeal. In addition to high selectivity and compression, flash fiction is the art of omission. Greats like Grace Paley, Ernest Hemingway, and J.D. Salinger made excellent use of omission. Omission alludes to the bigger story and invites the reader into the work. Perhaps more than any other written form, flash fiction demands the reader’s participation and interaction, and thereby honors the reader’s mental and emotional intelligence.

Flash fiction is my bullshit detector. This form in particular, in its scantiness, holds up my weaknesses as a writer and demands I police those weaknesses if I wish the work to succeed. My first drafts are always overwrought and often sentimental and thus dishonest. Of all the forms, flash fiction most refuses to tolerate such amateurishness. Flash fiction demands I tell the best story I can with the most skill and the least amount of words and gimmicks possible. To that end, I am a forever student and forever striving.

Here’s something new and tiny and unpublished. Here’s me striving.

Circles

Barry keeps Mya’s mother awake at night. Mya’s father wants to break Barry’s nose and knee-crush his groin. He just hasn’t gotten around to it yet. Three times Mya and Barry have broken-up and gotten back together again. Mya’s mother asks her daughter, Why?

Mya’s father feels robbed of his wife’s left breast and her long luscious hair. Hair like a black velvet lap. He insists she always wear her wig and a loose top, especially in bed. He prefers the black top, with the deep V down her lean, tanned back. Her spine holds him together. He asks her to buy a blond wig too. Might as well go for a third, he decides. Red, he tells her. Might as well have some fun, he thinks. Mya’s mother promises herself that, if she survives, she will put herself first more.

Mya checks her arms and neck in the mirror, impressed by the new concealer. Barry waits outside Mya’s house. To Mya’s mother, sitting inside her living room and searching the TV, the car engine sounds like it’s trying to get away from Barry. Barry’s thick fingers drum the dashboard, sending up dust. What’s taking her so long? The moon hits him like a spotlight. He thinks about all those astronauts, Neil and Buzz and more, and how it must have just about killed them not to ever get back there.

____________

Ethel Rohan’s latest work is forthcoming from The Lineup: 25 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press, 2014); Drivel: Deliciously Bad Writing by Your Favorite Authors (Penguin: Perigree, 2014); and Flash Fiction International Anthology (W.W. Norton, 2015). You can visit her at ethelrohan.com.

 

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.”

____________

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 Sarah Crysl Akhtar

Sarah Akhtar

My kind of horror story: a quiet progression towards doom. Nothing’s harder to write. One false note in the voice and the mood vanishes; built-up tension can’t be reclaimed. I haven’t seen it done better than in Lydia S Gray’s In Return (1/8/12).

Gray states the impossible right at the beginning of her story, which takes confidence and nerve. She doesn’t answer any of our questions but we can’t stop following, wondering and dreading right alongside the narrator.

I love when the writer respects the reader’s intelligence, knows that life doesn’t tie itself up in neat resolutions.

The story earned a respectable 3.7 stars after 57 votes; twenty readers commented, most of them finding In Return creepy and effective. A few found it flat, and some wanted more details. I think it’s considerably underrated.

The inexplicable is at the heart of horror fiction. Yet readers sometimes accept rampaging zombies and the inconveniences caused by monthly full moons without a quibble, but insist on being told the “why” of less gory but more atmospheric stories.

Remembering it this long after my first read, and revisiting it, my pleasure in Gray’s story hasn’t diminished. I think In Return is worthy of a place in any anthology of great ghost and horror tales–alongside masterworks by M. R. James and Algernon Blackwood.

Take a look for yourself–see if you agree.

____________

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, 365tomorrows and Perihelion SF Magazine.

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