CRAFT


by Aliza Greenblatt

blunk_team

Dan Blunk is an aspiring fiction writer who loves stories of all kinds, golf, the outdoors, and a nice bourbon on the backyard deck as the sun goes down behind the mountains. He lives in northern Colorado with his wife and dog.

Aliza Greenblatt: What inspired you to start telling stories? How old were you? Who are some of the authors that influenced you? Favorite books?

Dan Blunk: My family was pretty book-crazy. My mom was a librarian and so some of my favorite parts of my childhood were going to the library with my two younger brothers and reading and letting my imagination run wild. I was pretty young when I thought I wanted to be a writer, probably seven or eight. Around that time I started a ‘novel’ a time-travel story with dinosaurs and adventure and a daring male protagonist. I’d go up to my room, write a couple chapters, and come down and give them to my parents to read. They must have thought I was nuts, but they really encouraged me. I read a lot, but one book that I really connected with as a kid was a book called The Missing Persons League by Frank Bonham. It’s a dystopian story about a high school kid trying to track down his dad, who is missing. I was in fourth or fifth grade when I read it and it blew me away. I was so entranced I said to my mom how cool it would be to actually talk to the author about it. She got the publisher’s address and told me I should write him a letter. So I did, and he wrote back! It was really exciting, I was such a nerd, I thought that was the coolest thing ever. It was a formative experience in my life. We carried on a correspondence for a while, it just made me want to write more. Other authors I love are Ray Bradbury, Raymond Carver, Ursula K. LeGuin (Earthsea Trilogy is amazing), Michael Chabon, Stephen King, so many others. I’ll read anything that interests me.

AG: You mentioned on EDF that Rig #9 was your first published story. Congratulations! What a great way to start your fiction endeavors. Can you tell me about your writing goals, both some long term and short term ones?

DB: Thanks! It was a pretty exciting thing for me. I’ve always kind of thought of myself as a writer, but only in the last two years or so have I gotten ‘serious’ about it. I started taking classes at a place called Lighthouse in Denver, it’s an outstanding community of really talented teachers and writers and going there has really energized me to actually apply myself. They have really taught me to have fun but to take responsibility for developing myself as a writer by reading a lot, critiquing the work of others, and just keeping at it, never stopping. I fell in with a group of writers and we started our own writing group (Knife Brothers!) and it’s a lot of fun. We get together every month at someone’s house and have some wine and some food and chat and share and critique each others’ latest stuff. That has been really energizing for me, it forces me to work hard because I don’t want to show up with nothing for the group to talk about! As far as goals, I would like to keep working on short stories and flash fiction, which I really love, but eventually I’d like to try writing a novel or screenplay.

AG: Can you tell me a little about your writing process?

DB: For me, things start with a kind of day-dreamy ‘what if’ chain of thought. I have always had a very active imagination, and I’ll see something in real life and that will spawn a chain of questions. For example, I’ll see a guy walking out of an assisted living facility wiping tears from his face and I’ll just imagine, ‘what happened in there? Is his dad sick? How do they get along? Did they argue all the time when he was growing up?’ And it will just go on like that, I’ll have this spur-of-the-moment exploration of possibilities in my own brain. That starts way before I ever actually write anything down. I have a day job that I really enjoy and that challenges me a lot. In order to make time to write, I started getting up around 5:30 and spending 45 minutes or so. I’m not that great about doing it every day, it’s a tremendous feat of discipline and I really admire people who can stick to a regimen like that.

AG: One of my favorite parts of this story was the voice. Immediately from the opening line, the mood was set and it was clear that even though the narrator is an old hand at this business, he also has a good grasp on literature and the local history. How did you find the voice for this piece? Or did it find you?

DB: Thank you very much. This piece started with my wife wanting to go for a drive. We live in northern Colorado and there are a few little ghost towns to the east of us, and as you get away from the mountains you get into the windy, flatness of the western Great Plains. It’s a hauntingly beautiful place, with the tall grass and the wind and the open sky, but it’s incredibly inhospitable and it feels hostile and alien and it just struck me as very powerful and it just got my creativity flowing. So we went out to see one of the ghost towns and it kind of started the day in the creepy old-West way. Then we drove to a really cool hiking place with all these big rock formations and while we were out there I started seeing all these oil wells pumping. So then it was a little bit of a lightning strike moment for me, I imagined this old oil rig worker dealing with something that had happened to him that he couldn’t really explain, but I wanted him to be trustworthy and intelligent, someone who is more than just a simple roughneck because I wanted to present the nuance that I imagined when I heard him in my head. So I think the voice came from a deep connection I had with that place and it kind of flowed from there.

AG: What were some of the challenges of writing this story? What are some of your favorite parts?

DB: I would say my main challenge was making the voice of the main character ring true. The first part kind of came to me, but I had to work hard to maintain the voice and keep momentum going in the story and, hopefully, give readers a payoff in the end. My favorite parts are probably when the narrator is at his gruffest when he talks about what an idiot the Kid is, and the way the birds gather together to form the shape of the Kid, that image just bubbled up from deep in my subconscious and frankly scared the hell out of me.

AG: What other projects are you working on now? Are there other stories of yours, either upcoming or published, that you can point readers to?

DB: I am working on a couple short stories, I am due to submit one to my writing class in a few weeks, so I’m working hard to get that into shape. I’m also working on a few flash pieces that kind of came out of a trip we took to Florida during the holidays. I haven’t submitted in a while, but I should have some things ready to submit by spring.

 

ED: This is Aliza’s last EDF Top Author interview. I want to thank her for her time and effort in providing us with these interviews and wish her well with her future writing endeavors. Beginning in March, Jessi Cole Jackson will take over these duties.

____________

Aliza profile-pic-2

Aliza T. Greenblatt works in a firmly non-writing field when the sun is up and writes under a desk lamp at night.   Fueled by a sheer love of books and a tyrannical imagination, she writes the stories that appear over her morning coffee and won’t leave her alone until they are put down on paper.   She writes, raves, and blogs at http://atgreenblatt.com and on Twitter  @AtGreenblatt.

 

 

by Sarah Crysl Akhtar

Sarah AkhtarLong ago, in a universe far, far away, I was just a hapless high school girl hoping to survive ’til graduation. If we had to read it in English class, I hated it.

Lucky for me, my best friend’s mother was a librarian, and I liked her, so reading recommendations from that household were nontoxic to me. I did learn to love some of the Brontës before I got out of school.

But I couldn’t stand Dickens. Even then, I had a strong allergic reaction to the sentence containing 350 words when it only needed twenty. Later, it all became clear. If you’re paid by the word, economy ain’t your mantra.

Many, many years later, someone gave me a partial set of those Great Books for the masses that ate up a lot of trees in the first half of the twentieth century. And desperate for something to read one grim afternoon, I finally picked up Dickens’ A Child’s History of England. It seemed to be the least awful choice.

I loved it.

With the simplicity of a father explaining universal concepts to his children while tucking them into bed, Dickens made us understand the extraordinary gift of the English to the world—the concept of Common Law, to which even the monarch was subject. The courage of people who had little but that hunger for justice and fairness, struggling against the powerful who had every imaginable weapon to use against them—this was one of the most thrilling stories I’d ever read.

I still hate Great Expectations. But Dickens—a little less so. And I wonder how he’d have written those novels if financial considerations hadn’t so influenced his prose.

You can find plenty of naked potentates shivering their way through the art and literature universe. And plenty of mockery for the person who says “I don’t know nuthin’ about art, I just know what I like.”

Well, I don’t know nuthin’ about music, and I’m as close to being innumerate as anyone can be who still manages to balance her checkbook. But I don’t need an understanding of complex mathematical structure to be able to love Bach. His genius was to compose music, so sophisticated in form that it seems like an instruction manual for the creation of the universe, yet expresses universal human emotion. Something, as they say, for everyone.

Do scholarly explanations of his achievement enhance my enjoyment of Bach? Not really. I can’t understand them. I already feel how much that music contains.

And I know why I don’t like Chopin. Pathetique indeed!

I’m neither a barbarian nor a cognoscenta. I just trust my own taste.

Do I enjoy learning more about an interesting text? Yes, and I’ll read both the afterward and the foreward, afterwards.

It’s helpful to have a guide to a written work that may contain possibly-obscure wordplay and cultural references; whose plot and character motivations require an understanding of cultures or historical events or timeframes we may be unfamiliar with; we might miss the hilarity if we don’t understand an in-joke, or not comprehend the insult if we don’t realize the import of passing a piece of bread with one hand, or the other.

But sometimes an academic’s analysis seems intended to kick all the joy right out of the reader’s hand.

My copy of Pride and Prejudice is so fragile now that I really shouldn’t touch any page I don’t actually need to read. But one evening, drunk with recklessness, I pushed past “The End.”

Talk about a wrong turn!

You’d never have believed, after plowing through that learned afterward, that Jane Austen had a lively sense of humor, a fine eye for the ridiculous, and that the book was, in fact, a hilarious skewering of class pretensions, the devaluing of women as individuals and the idiocies of British inheritance law.

Thank God that these days the common man has the internet. In those dark lonely hours when you doubt your own judgment, you can find comfort and validation as you discover that even some sophisticates didn’t like Hemingway or thought Gertrude Stein was full of sawdust. That there are, in fact, varied, sometimes contradictory opinions about every work of literature, and you needn’t feel ashamed of your own.

Tastes are planted, nurtured and shaped; they’re informed by our life experiences; what makes us cry at fifteen might make us laugh at fifty. That boring paperback you tossed away at twenty might really seem to contain the secret of the universe when you read it as a grandparent.

But all of us have strong instincts that can smell out the fraudulent beneath the fashionable, or truthfulness wrapped in an unspectacular package.

Don’t be afraid to decide for yourself what’s “good.”

____________

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 onEvery Day Fiction, Perihelion SF Magazine, 365tomorrows and Flash Fiction Online.)

by Derek McMillan

author_hat

I am a retired teacher. I work as a volunteer, along with my wife Angela, with a functional skills English Class in Worthing in Sussex. Many of the students do not have English as their first language and are seeking to improve their skills in speaking and listening, reading and writing. We have discussions on stories and students are encouraged to use the Quick Read books provided by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education.

Research by NIACE shows that “1 in 6 adults of working age in the UK find reading difficult and may never pick up a book.” People’s reasons for not reading are varied but are often based on fear. “Some people say they find books scary and intimidating, thinking they are ‘not for them’ or that books are difficult or boring.”

I have started using Every Day Fiction with the class. I have posted links to specific stories or to a menu of stories on Moodle and added a forum for learners to write their comments. Everything about the class remains confidential because not everybody wants to broadcast the fact they have problems with reading.

Moodle is a magical open-source, digital learning environment. Students can work on it in class. There is time to read a story and write about it in one lesson along with all the other things we have to do. Using Moodle means that the more motivated students can also do it at home.

I made a start with the Halloween stories and they were very popular.

The students are mainly adults who don’t read a great deal and some stories are going to be easier for them than others. The fact that stories have tags is very useful to guide them to stories they are likely to like. The Moodle forum enables learners to comment on each other’s posts and for teachers to give feedback to learners.

I hope some of them will get hooked on Every Day Fiction.

Sample Moodle screen shots (click icon to enlarge)

Moodle1

 

Moodle2a

 

____________

Derek McMillan is an author living in Durrington in West Sussex. His editor is his wife, Angela McMillan. This year he has the second full-length novel in the Mirror of Eternity series, The Miranda Revolution, coming out in December. It will be available on Kindle or you can read it on your phone or tablet.

 

by Andreé Robinson-Neal

Andree-New

The crew at FFC jumped into 2015 with both feet. Jim Harrington rang the year in with some thoughts on dialect and reminded us that while we understand those phonetic spellings, our readers might not. We may want our stories to evoke emotion — confound, upset, tickle, tug — but the last thing we want to do is “confuse the reader.” To underscore this point, Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s treatise on poor word choices is a wonderful example of how a single word can be fatal to the emotion of the story. James Claffey‘s post on the turned phrase may give you pause as you ponder your latest writings — as he (as per his wife) says, “words can be fractured things, awkwardly spliced and stitched together.” However, as our three staff members suggest, it’s about craft: not stringing any old word to another, but precisely drawing together the perfect piece of flash.

Kaye Linden gave us a handout that should help us get our almost-ready-for-submission writing in order with a 37-point list of tips on flash fiction (and a set of bonus poetry points too) and Rohini Gupta shared her reasons for writing flash fiction. The reminder of the infinite possibilities that we can create within a handful of words should get you excited to continue writing (or to get started) this year.

Need some tips to enhance your writing? January had a bunch to offer.

Dino Laserbeam gave us five solid points for writing twist endings, including a reminder that a twist isn’t always necessary in flash. Gloria Garfunkel gave us a glimpse into the far-reaching aspects of flash fiction and what you can do with it if you try. For you audiophiles, Jeremy Szal offered 5+1 do’s and don’ts for podcasting your story. RK Biswas reviewed Shellie Zacharia’s flash collection, Not Everything Lovely and Strange is a Dream, which you might want to pick up for added inspiration. Take a careful read through “Get Thee Hence” from Sarah Crysl Akhtar and remember: be true to your expression, follow the tenets of grammar, and “keep writing til you get it right.” Incorporate all the tips and tricks offered throughout the month and maybe you’ll be one of EDF’s top authors, like Amy Sisson, who was interviewed by Aliza Greenblatt.

No matter where you are in your writing career, FFC’s staff is here to give you the latest craft, genre, and inspirational information. Be sure to connect regularly as there is something new each month!

____________

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 Erin Entrada Kelly

Erin Kelly

Choosing the right words to tell a story is an art, and the greatest artists make it seem effortless.

Let’s face it: If you want to learn how to build a boat, you have to study the shipbuilders. So let’s take a look at a successful piece of flash—Kenneth Gagnon’s Liar—and find out what made this story strong enough to win the highly competitive 2013 Best of the Net prize for fiction.

First, the opening paragraph:

I think things went south because I was a habitual liar, especially about the story of how we met. I have an active imagination. I considered it charming, and for a time – a long time – so did you.

Gagnon doesn’t waste any time. (You can’t waste time in flash, after all). He tells us right away that things went south and gives us boatloads of information about himself and his relationship, in only three sentences.

When I balanced Jonathan on my knee in the glow from the tyrannosaurus lamp, for instance, I told him I leapt four hundred feet in the air to catch you as you plummeted from the whitest, softest cloud. In light emanating from the mouth of the fiercest of all dinosaurs, he asked: Was mom an angel?

Absolutely. And unbelievably clumsy.

Again, a ton of information. They have a small child, Jonathan. And while the narrator might be a “habitual liar,” his lies aren’t of the evil variety. He’s likable, sympathetic. This is important, because it gives the rest of the story unique resonation.

As the 500-word story unfolds, we travel with the couple to a company Christmas party, where the narrator tells his wife’s boss the real story (or maybe-real-story—nod to the unreliable narrator) of how they met. This clever thread unites the playful-kid scene with the work-party scene.

The narrator then senses tension in the air and perceives that his wife is trading side-glances with one of her co-workers, “a Greek with eyebrows and hair so thick they looked painted.” His suspicions escalate on the ride home.

I regarded the headlight-lit, winding road, certain now we were bound for a shadowy, unexplored country. I pictured jaguars and deep green vines.

Metaphors are tricky. If you try too hard, they come off cheesy and overworked. If you use them too often, it’s gimmicky. And if you sacrifice them altogether, you rob yourself of an effective prose technique. Gagnon’s smart. He threads “shadowy, unexplored country” with a follow-up metaphor of “jaguars and deep green vines.” This adds a distinct layer of richness to Gagnon’s prose. It’s also interesting how he embeds the word “now.” Consider how it changes the context of his sentence when the word “now” is removed.

I regarded the headlight-lit, winding road, certain we were bound …

This is an example of how one word makes a world of difference, even if it’s not immediately apparent (remember: good writers make it look easy). The word “now” tells us that there is finality in the narrator’s thought process—that he had suspicions that were validated at that moment. Before that moment, he was uncertain. But he is certain now.

Gagnon continues with I was drunk at the helm, in which the word “drunk” could have double meaning. I’m not sure if that was intentional or not, but it works.

Then this perfectly placed, eloquent metaphor:

I saw in your eyes the cold ocean’s floor, and the Greek there, swimming ghostly amongst a hundred faceless others.

So, here is a man who is suspicious of his wife. But remember—we like him. When we’re introduced to the narrator, he is bouncing his son on his knee and telling him a whimsical story about his mother being an angel. At the company party, he makes jokes with the company COO and attempts to kid around with his wife. Imagine how different the story would be if our narrator were abusive, or an alcoholic, or a philanderer.

In 500 words, Gagnon has crafted an eloquent piece of fiction with a clear story arc and textured, three-dimensional characters. Not an easy task, but he makes it look effortless. That’s when you know it’s good.

Read Liar, by Kenneth Gagnon at Drunk Monkeys.

____________

Erin Entrada Kelly has published more than 30 short stories and essays in publications worldwide. A two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Kelly was a 2011 Martha’s Vineyard Writer in Residence and a finalist for the Philippines Free Press Literary Award for Short Fiction. Her debut novel BLACKBIRD FLY will be released by HarperCollins/Greenwillow next month. She is also the author of HER NAME WAS FIDELA, a novella-length collection of flash fiction. Learn more at www.erinentradakelly.com.

 

Next Page »