CRAFT


by Andreé Robinson-Neal

If it were possible to have your eyes closed as you read, it might also be possible to feel, smell, and hear the story. You might be saying to yourself, “I can hear the story if I buy an audio book,” but that is not what is meant here.

Anjali’s fingers were hard despite the softness of the cream she was kneeding into Reena’s face. They were a worker’s hands, the hands of a woman who washed clothes, did the dishes and cooked the meals for the family along with her work as a beautician.

Abha Iyengar’s Many Fish to Fry is filled with touchable, smellable, hearable moments on each page. She takes us to Paharganj, a neighborhood in Delhi, to meet a variety of memorable characters, including Reena Vardharajan (which was shortened to “Rajan” because “Vardharajan” is so long, isn’t it?) and her family; Parvati, Reena’s part-time maid (who is a barely tolerable and weak replacement for Murali, the former full-time servant); Anirban Dasgupta and his wife Proteeksha, the Punjab/Bengali couple who live next door in Flat No. 69; jewelry maker Sanjay Singh and Neeru his wife; and the ever-effervescent private detective Harinmoy Banerjee. There is also the matter of fish, interwoven intricately throughout.

Thanks to her beautician, Reena’s love for jewelry making has been rekindled. She meets Sanjay as she embarks on her new career as a part-time business woman. Making jewelry provides her an outlet, something her traditional mother, traveling businessman husband, and busy children struggle to understand. She takes over the dining room table to craft her designs and spends afternoons visiting Sanjay and other merchants in the roadside shops to the dismay of her husband.

When [Reena's] seriousness with her work began to interfere with her attention to the little details around [her husband Anand], thing she had taken care of earlier because she had nothing else on her mind, he expressed his disapproval.

“You are getting too involved. Why do you need to do all this running around at your age? … I miss the hot rotis you make for me. you have no time to talk to me … and the dhobi just can’t iron shirts like you do … did.” …

She had expected him to be highly supportive.

But when a Hilsa fish shows up unexpectedly on her doorstep, followed closely by an unexpected meeting with Harinmoy Banerjee, a colorful private investigator and self-labeled Super Sleuth who rings Reena’s door looking for Proteeksha, the next door neighbor from Flat No. 69, Reena embarks on an adventure filled with intrigue, laughter, tears, and gossip. And of course, fish.

Iyengar skillfully mixes language and cultures into a delicious stew that will suit any taste. She intermingles traditional Hindi and Bengali words and phrases (there is a glossary of terms in the back for the less initiated) with Western terms familiar to any English speaker of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Her words come off the page to tickle the palate. The sound of the traditional words and phrases, when read aloud, are lyrical to the ear: phrases such as Na rehega bans, na bajegi bansuri (“If there is no bamboo, there will be no flute,” meaning “If the source of the trouble is removed, then the trouble won’t occur,” according to the glossary) and Daane daane pe likha hai khane wale ka naam (“On each morsel is written the name of the person destined to eat it”) are just two examples.

As Chris Galvin Nguyen, the writer of the book’s forward indicates, Many Fish to Fry examines Indian social issues and suggests what it is like to move beyond tradition through the use of “real-life trends of language and culture in India.” For weeks after reading it, you will be challenged not to end every sentence with Harinmoy’s classic Is it not, dear?

This is not Iyengar’s first book, but it is her first with Pure Slush. She has a number of other published works worth checking out and can be found at www.abhaiyengar.com and www.abhaencounter.blogspot.in.

___________

 

Andree-New

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 Tara Laskowski

taralask

Last fall, SmokeLong Quarterly ran a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to redesign our 13-year-old web site. The campaign was more successful than we anticipated, raising nearly double our initial goal. I’ve been working ever since on the new design and content system, and we launched the new site earlier this month.

We are very happy with the look and feel of our site—and the reviews so far have been pretty positive amongst our readers and writers. In the process of redesigning and in the conversations we had about the site, I came to realize that what was important to us at SmokeLong was probably counterintuitive in many ways to the direction that online publishing is going. We were designing a site that in many ways valued the traditions of print publishing.

smokelong_logo3

Why, oh why, you ask, would we want to do a thing like that? The answer probably lies in the origins of SmokeLong itself. I wanted to stay true to many of the elements of our old site that Dave Clapper designed when he launched the publication in 2003. I wanted simple navigation. Good archives. Most of all—I wanted the stories grouped into issues.

When we started our web site redesign, we browsed a bunch of different online literary journals to get a feel for what we did and did not want. We definitely liked the sites best where the navigation was easy and clear and where the stories—for lack of a better term—just looked pretty.

So it is important to me that our issues remain clearly defined, and that our readers know what issue a particular story is from and how to find the other stories in that issue. Much like a print publication, I want our readers to be able to ‘flip back’ to our table of contents whenever they need to. When they read an author’s interview, I want them to easily find other interviews in the issue.

It is also important to me that our writers and their stories are front and center. We want their bylines and bios clear and easy to find. We spent days poring over fonts to make sure that our readers’ eyes wouldn’t go bleary. We made sure their interviews are easy to find, and that each story is paired with original art.

Here’s another little touch on the site that makes us old-school: at the end of every story and interview, we’ve got our logo as an end mark. Do you know how much I love that end mark? Sure, it is probably only necessary in a print magazine to signal to the reader that they don’t have to turn the page to hunt for the rest of the article. But it makes me happy.

So yes, when you check out the new SLQ, you’ll see we have tried to combine the best elements of print and online publications. You can read within each issue like you’ve picked up the book, but you can also, at your fingertips (and without taking up any bookshelf space) browse any other issue we’ve ever done or search for any author we’ve ever published. That’s pretty sweet, isn’t it? We prefer to keep our innovations within the stories themselves, stunning you with content, not technology. Our goal is for our readers to lose themselves in the writing, not the web site.

Check out our latest Issue 47 here and email us at editors@smokelong.com with any questions, comments, free dinners, or just to say hello.

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Tara Laskowski has been the editor of SmokeLong Quarterly since 2010. Find out more about her at www.taralaskowski.com.

by Sarah Crysl Akhtar

Sarah Akhtar

I’ve often taken the powerful emotions triggered by real events and turned them into fiction, and find that a pretty successful recipe.

And I’ve almost always managed to steer clear of the Polemical Palisades and Sentimental Canyon while doing it.

But recent world events had enraged and frustrated me, and before I knew it, I was writing A Story with a Message.  And I was so moved by what I’d written, I made myself cry.

Danger, Will Robinson!

Even as I began to suspect it was dreck, I submitted it to the site most familiar with and welcoming to my voice.  And for good measure, sent a copy to a friend, whose intellect is boundless and whose judgment is sterling.

The response from both quarters was what I dreaded even at the moment I hit send.

I’m grateful nobody sent me dentist bills for the throbbing toothaches my story must have inflicted on those first readers.  Instead of powerful emotion and throat-catching moments of universal human suffering and sacrifice, I’d written The Big Rock Candy Mountain of almost unbearable sentimentality, and we all knew it.

The story needed a heart transplant and four follow-up surgeries.  At one point I almost pulled the plug on it, convinced it wasn’t worth keeping alive.  But It was accepted after the third revision, with the gentle observation that I still had time to find its true soul.

I was still working on it almost up to publication date.

More tears were shed over that story–but this time by readers who found it extraordinary.

I suspect I could have placed the original somewhere.  There’s certainly a market for the Hallmark Hall of Fame genre, too.  But sentimentality is like bonded leather–a cheap substitute for the real thing.  Don’t dazzle yourself with an ersatz product, even if you’re pressed for time.

If you find your eyes welling up when you read your first draft, remember that a holiday commercial can accomplish the same thing.  Get up from your computer, mop your eyes and make a strong cup of tea.  Then get back to work.

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Sarah Crysl Akhtars 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, Perihelion SF Magazine, 365tomorrows and Flash Fiction Online.)

 

by J. Chris Lawrence

Denise Beck-Clark, no longer having to earn a living as a psychotherapist, is a full time writer, Raphael’s mother, and not-frequent-enough traveler. She lives in metro New YorDenise Beck Clarkk.  Her blog and info about two published books can be seen atwww.denisebeck-clark.com.

 

The Handkerchief
by Denise Beck-Clark

My dearest friend Peter left New York for the West Coast, saying that if he didn’t accumulate a new set of esthetics he was bound for Gehenna.

“New York is too European,” he explained. “Too old. I can’t handle the emotional intensity here.”

I tried convincing him that you take yourself and your emotions wherever you go, but his mind was set. He was determined to follow this imagined route to serenity.

So he went. I missed our talks; I missed sharing books. Though we still communicated by mail and phone, it wasn’t the same as co-existing in the same neighborhood.

As the years went by, we corresponded less. Then one day I learned that Peter’s body was found in the home of a well-known drag queen in San Francisco, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot. Shortly after, I received a letter on scented paper in an unfamiliar hand. The message was succinct: “Peter saved this for you.”

It was a handkerchief. Pale, egg-shell, with delicate flowered embroidery. A little tag said, “Czechoslovakia, 1921.” Also, a note in Peter’s writing: “For Sarah, from a time before everything went south, and I went west.”

I had seen the handkerchief before; it belonged to his grandmother who was murdered in 1944. That this little square of cloth continued to exist while Peter did not was a sad, unbearable irony. I used it to dab at my eyes, then put it away so safely I would never find it again.

 ***

 J. Chris Lawrence: I love the theme of pursuing a false sense of serenity. It’s the classic “grass is greener” adage that so many of us can relate to that really brings Peter to life, and it is Sarah’s struggle to show him this that not only clutches the heart, but earns this excellent piece our PMMP award. How much did the aphorism influence your work before writing? Did you expect Peter’s fate to end as it did from the beginning?

Denise Beck-Clark: I’ve come to understand that a lot of my writing happens below the level of consciousness.  In preparation to write this story I looked over the prompt words and read the aphorism a few times, then just started writing.  I think this particular quote fit well into my thinking because I’m a former psychotherapist and, as you might imagine, a lot of what I did was help people to discover within themselves the truths they needed to know, about themselves and in general.

JCL: Speaking of themes, many authors tend to explore and revisit specific themes that may speak to them in some personal way. Are there any themes or genres that you find yourself returning to with your work?

DB-C: Definitely.  My work tends to be psychological and/or philosophical, and character-driven.  I tend to present emotions and behaviors that most of us grapple with to varying degrees, such as ambivalence, indecision, self-image, self-esteem, etc.

JCL: Despite the limitations of the contest, your story manages to capture a depth of history and a sense of a living world. What were some of your biggest challenges while attempting to do so much with so few words?

DB-C: To be honest, this story came rather easily to me, perhaps because of, rather than despite, having to use specific words.  But in writing flash fiction in general, the biggest challenge is presenting everything about the characters and what happens to them with a limited number of words.  You have to think of the shortest and most vivid way of saying things.  In a way I think that’s why incorporating prompt words into a story helped because the story evolved around them rather than the other way around.

JCL: How did the prompt words affect your process? Did you choose them prior to beginning the story, or did they evolve as part of the process?

DB-C: As I’m realizing now the prompt words had a large effect on the writing process.  I zeroed in on the words that I liked or was drawn to and constructed a story around them.  I had thought of doing a memorial to an old friend of mine who did move to San Francisco, live in the LGBT community, and die there, though of course, other details are fiction.  The story evolved as a process of semi-consciously combining the prompt words, the theme, and thoughts of my friend.

JCL: What is it about flash fiction that you find appealing? What drives you to create short shorts like this?

DB-C: What I love about flash fiction, both as a writer and as a reader, is that it’s one form of instant gratification I don’t have to give up because it’s not good for me!  I love being able to read a complete story in a few minutes’ time.  Likewise, I love being able to write and complete something without spending months or years on it.  I also enjoy the specific challenges of writing flash fiction, as indicated above.

JCL: Now that you’ve won our PMMP award, what’s next for Denise Beck-Clark?

DB-C: Well, before I win the Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes :), I’ll need to finish several works-in-progress and then have many of my already written works published.  This includes many poems, short stories, and novels, one completed and several in the works.  And, I will keep writing flash, because it’s an enjoyable treat that’s proven to be possible.

JCL: Finally, what advice can you give for the aspiring authors out there?

DB-C: Well, Chris, besides the old saying “practice, practice, practice,” I’d say stick with it.  Find whatever in yourself that is stubborn and tenacious and don’t give up.  It’s also good to learn craft, both by reading a lot and in more formal ways such as classes or workshops.  In the end, if you’re meant to be a good or great, and/or published writer, you will be.

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 j chris lawrenceBorn in the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia, J. Chris Lawrence  spent much of his youth traveling and exploring the various cultural facets of American life. He currently lives in the Los Angeles area with his wife, two sons, and two cats. You can find more of Chris’s work online at jchrislawrence.com, or follow him on Twitter (twitter.com/JChrisLawrence) and Facebook (facebook.com/JCLFiction).

by Jim Harrington

Suzan Palumbo

Suzan Palumbo lives in Brampton, Ontario with her husband and two daughters.  Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, she is an ESL teacher who loves Alfred Hitchcock, curry, music and growing tomatoes.  Her stories are often inspired by clashes of culture and the gap between expectations and reality.

 

Roots
by Suzan Palumbo

Emily retraced the route she used to escape her parents’ biases. When the memory of her father’s fist cracking the kitchen table threatened to make her turn the car around, she glanced at Zoe asleep in her booster seat and continued down the old familiar roads.

Her mother’s prophecy had been half true. Zaid left but he had not used Emily and flung her aside. They were separated by the hot wheels and flesh distorting metal he used at work. Emily held Zaid’s hand, surrounded by wires and tubes, until he let go. Then, she clung to Zoe, whose pecan coloured skin and quick smile solidified his fading existence.

In her parent’s driveway she woke Zoe and let her skip down the path to look at a peach tinted flower. Emily’s mother came out from the side yard.

“Hello, are you lost?” She was confused at finding a small child in her garden.

“No, mom, she isn’t.”

Emily’s mother stood quietly staring at Zoe and then crouched down next to her.

“Would you like to help me plant a flower?”

“Yes!” Zoe flashed Zaid’s smile.

Emily’s mother showed Zoe how to dig a hole and not damage the flower’s roots. When they were done she wiped Zoe’s hands with a handkerchief and invited them both inside. Emily nodded and Zoe ran towards the front door.

“What about Dad?” Emily asked her mother.

“He’s been trying to fix the kitchen table.” Emily’s mother stepped aside and let them in.

***

Jim Harrington: What was it about the contest prompt that led you to write Emily’s story?

 Suzan Palumbo: I zeroed in on the word bias and saw the image of Emily returning home with Zoe, hoping to prove her parents wrong. I also liked that the word route, as a homophone, has opposing meanings.  Roots keep you grounded; they also don’t let you move, whereas a route is a course we use to leave.  I felt these contrasting meanings did a good job of symbolizing the conflicts Emily has been struggling to overcome.

There are aspects of my own life in Emily’s story.  My husband and I are from different cultural and racial backgrounds.  We’ve never experienced the level of intolerance that Emily and Zaid encountered, but there have been a few people who were skeptical that we could find any commonalities on which to base our lives. Emily knows that Zoe has the ability to shift her grandparents’ perspective better than any well reasoned argument.  Zoe is the commonality that this family needs to come back together.

I also want to recognize that this is also part of Zaid’s story. It was difficult writing about his death, as I felt I connected with him on a cultural and emotional level. He is definitely a character I’m going to explore further in the future.

JH:  Final Judge Meg Tuite commented on the “beauty of its language and the use of dialogue to tell the story of three generations.” Many authors struggle with getting the dialog just right. Do you have a secret to writing effective dialog?

SP: Whenever I write dialogue I try to keep the question, “So, what’s your point?” in the back of my head.” If what the character is saying has no impact on the plot, character or meaning of the story, I try to take it out or rework it while trying to keep the exchange realistic sounding.

Moments of silence are also important.  In my personal life I don’t always have a snappy, well thought out answer when I’m trying to have a meaningful conversation. People dialogue without speaking all of the time and I think it’s important to include aspects of non-verbal dialogue in our writing.

JH:  I like how the story circles back to the father and the kitchen table. What did you hope the show the reader by doing that?

SP:  Emily’s father realizes his anger and intolerance have cost him his daughter and family.  He wants to rectify the situation but doesn’t know how.  I hope one day this family can sit around their kitchen table and eat and laugh and talk.  Of course, Zaid will be missing and the crack in the table will never completely disappear.  This absence will always be present when they sit down together.  I don’t think reconciliation is going to be easy; there are going to be missteps, but I wanted to show that they were all willing to try.

JH:  Writing a captivating story in 250 words or less is a challenge. Do you write stories of this length or shorter regularly?

SP:  Yes. I’m currently working on a series of one hundred word stories.  It’s challenging but I like that the length forces me to consider the effectiveness of each word since each word may need to fulfill more than one function.  I’m also working on a piece that’s around 1500 words.  I tend to stick to pieces that are under 3000 words.

JH:  Do you have other works online that we can point our readers to?

SP: This is my first published piece.  It’s been a very rewarding experience.   Thank you for your thoughtful questions and for organizing a great contest.

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jimharrington2

Jim Harrington began writing fiction in 2007 and has agonized over the form ever since. Jim’s Six Questions For . . . blog 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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