CRAFT


by Aliza Greenblatt

Marisa Mangione

Marisa Mangione is a medical writer from New Providence, NJ. She writes about medicine and other weird, gross, and magical things at www.marisamangione.com/. Her piece, The Goose with Zero Down, was the top EDF story for August.

Aliza Greenblatt: So, I usually like to start off these interviews by asking the writers to tell us a bit about themselves. Why did you decide to start writing stories? Is there any particular type or genre that you favor?

Marisa Mangione: I write stories because I’ve always written or told stories, and I can’t imagine not doing it. I believe that children are natural storytellers, but as we get older, most people channel that creative energy in other directions. So maybe I write because I’m immature.

In general, I write young adult or middle grade stories because I like the immediacy and heightened emotions for that age range—everything is happening RIGHT NOW, and if it doesn’t happen now, it might never happen. Writing flash fiction lets me experiment with different genres and styles.

AG: When you sit down to write a new story, what is your process like?

MM: I often start with an idea for one scene or a piece of dialogue. I try to write an outline for every piece. For longer stories, I like the 7-point story structure. For flash fiction, that’s sometimes too much, but any outline keeps me on track. Then I fill in any other dialogue or description that comes to mind before I start seriously writing from beginning to end. After that, I obsess about it for a couple months, send it to my writers’ group, rewrite everything, lose the draft for a while, find it again, then decide that it’s good enough to submit.

AG: In your biography included with the story on EDF, you say you write “about medicine and other weird, gross, and magical things.” Can you elaborate on those weird, gross, and magical topics?

MM: I’m a medical writer by trade, so I filter a lot of my daily experiences through that lens. I’m always interested in experiences that might change someone’s body or mind, both in my professional life and when writing fiction. So many things that happen in our bodies are complete mysteries to us, but our bodies are such a strong source of pride and anxiety. Plus, everyone has a body, so the line between an engrossing and mundane story is very thin.

For example, I just had a baby, so the substances going into and coming out of this little body are suddenly very important to me. It’s a cliche of the kind of boring conversation that new parents have, and I recognize that it’s completely ridiculous to have this much anxiety about someone else’s poop, but I think others can relate to the anxiety, and laugh along with me when he pees on the pediatrician or has a blowout on my lap. Finding the humor and magic in these mundane experiences is very appealing to me.

AG: There was a bit of a debate in the comment section about the voice in this story and the use of slang; so naturally I have to ask. Why did you choose to use words like “toosh” and “mooks?” Did you realize you were taking a bit of a gamble by doing so?

MM: I honestly expected this story to be much lower rated than it was because I’ve always gotten mixed reactions to the voice. I was thrilled that so many readers connected with this little story, but I was expecting a good number of readers to be turned off by the slang, or just not find the story all that funny or relatable.

If you’re going to retell a well-known story, you need a new angle, and the voice, including the slang, was necessary to providing that angle. If someone is going to tell a story, they’ll use their everyday language, including slang. That was important to me in conveying the stress she felt and the humor of the moment.

AG: Anyone who’s ever frequented a grocery story has seen these two characters at some point—that is, the bored kid and the parent who just wants to get through their shopping list alive. But why did she retell the story of the golden goose? Did she realize that the story was soothing herself as well as her child?

MM: I like that observation. I’ve never thought about her in quite those terms. I think of the mother as being at the end of her rope. As long as she’s in motion, she feels like she’s going to make it, so in that sense, telling the story is soothing to her. Plus, I think it’s natural to hope that if you can explain your reasoning the child will understand you and stop whatever they’re doing, but that doesn’t really work.

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

MM: I just had a baby in September, so I’m currently working on staying awake! Having a story published was one of my goals for my pregnancy, knowing that I might not get much writing or submissions in for the rest of the year. I’m hoping to get back into a routine soon and keep writing!

AG: Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us. Best of luck with all your writing endeavors.

__________________

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 Jim Harrington

jimharrington2

I began writing fiction in January of 2007. In October of 2008, I created a blog where I posted a quote and then wrote about what the quote meant to me as a writer. Honestly, the daily posts were intended for myself. They were a way to force me to think about each quote and how it might change my writing. If people reading my comments gained from them, so much the better. I’m going to post a few of these as I wrote them—even if I feel differently now. Feel free to agree, or disagree, or add your own take on the quote and what I said. Here’s the first one.

***

The Rejection Blues (first published on October 23, 2009)

As part of a panel on “Submitting Your Short Story,” I found myself saying, “I totally grant the possibility that a story I sent out sucks, and I do give rejections and comments the power (eventually) to let me know such a thing. But I would never grant them the power to determine whether I’m a writer or not. No one gets to decide that but me. -Randall Brown in Submitting Your Story (As Opposed to Yourself).

Randall’s post comes at a perfect time for me. I received two rejection e-mails this week, and the last two stories I submitted to a weekly writing challenge received less than rave reviews. I checked my submissions database, and I’ve received 181 rejections since July of 2007. I didn’t look at how many stories this covered. Some were rejected multiple times.

You might think I’d be used to rejection, but it still hurts; especially when, for whatever reason, I expect an editor to fall in love with a story. One aspect of the process that bothers me is when an editor (and this happens in critique groups also) explains how he would have written the story, or what he expected at the end. Gosh, if I wanted to write his story, I would have interviewed him before I started. Okay, that may be sour grapes, but I’m interested in how my story worked, not what someone else’s expectations were. I don’t remember who it was that suggested no critique should include the word I, but I agree.

In the end, I have to remember Randall’s advice and realize it’s not me an editor is rejecting. It’s my story. On the good news side, I received three acceptances this week, and a three-to-two ratio is something to be happy about. Still…

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 Jim Harrington began writing fiction in 2007 and has agonized over the form ever since. His stories have appeared in Every Day Fiction, Liquid Imagination, Ink Sweat and Tears, Near to the Knuckle, Flashes in the Dark, and others. He serves as the Managing Editor for Flash Fiction Chronicles. 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.

 

by Sarah Crysl Akhtar

Sarah AkhtarFor more than half my life, I believed myself constricted by a variant of the “those who can’t, teach” curse.

I’ve always been what people call “a good writer.”  I did well on essay exams even when I hardly knew what I was writing about, because I wrote so persuasively.  I was the perfect administrative assistant/executive secretary, turning other people’s less-than-sterling writing into correspondence and documents they could be proud of.  I edited manuscripts and created in-house newsletters, and people never stopped telling me what a great writer I was.

Badly-written books made me nuts; I’d mentally edit as I went along.

But I began to feel doomed; I had all the mechanical skills, but where was the fire?

I’d been writing poetry since the sixth grade.  In my thirties I participated in a weekend poetry seminar taught by an award-winning poet and respected professor at Queens College CUNY.  We distributed anonymous copies of our work within the group; I overheard several people discussing someone’s poems with rueful awe.  Turned out they were mine.  And the instructor told me my work was of professional quality.

But I can only write good poetry when ravaged by black despair.  Four years later I had my son, and I permanently renounced the self-indulgent beguilements of the dark side.

So I turned to prose.  And what terrified me most–after the need for coming up with a plot?

Dialogue.  I was convinced (a little light-gray despair here) I’d never be able to write realistic and believable dialogue.

It is, to me, miraculous that I now express not only my own voice, in nonfiction, but the voices of many characters through flash, and that readers respond to those voices with pleasure.

How did this happen?  I’m not sure.  Somehow, I learned to trust my own instincts; to feel when I’d caught the right rhythm, and to stay with it; to recognize when I hadn’t, and to start over.

I learned not to force a story.  I learned that even when expressing the thoughts and voices of male characters, or women in very different circumstances than anything I might have experienced, I had to be truthful to myself.  Otherwise the story just wouldn’t fly.

I once tried to write about a woman found by the now-adult daughter she’d given away.  I really, really wanted to write that story.  But I just couldn’t believe in my protagonist.  It was impossible for me to get inside her head, and God knows I tried.

Not sure what it says about me–that I have no trouble at all seeing myself inside characters who kill without guilt, but I can’t find any way to write about a mother giving away her child.

Perhaps the one urgent requirement of writing is to surprise yourself, and then to not let go of that moment of astonished revelation–to put it, somehow, in everything you create.

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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, 365tomorrows and Perihelion SF Magazine.

 

by Rohini Gupta

Rohini Gupta

There are many reasons why writers fail and one of the biggest–and deadliest–of them is distraction.

You probably recognize its symptoms. You are working well and then you feel like taking a break. Then you remember unfinished chores. You think, let me answer my email and then come back. That is the untimely end of your writing day.

At night, you wonder what happened, where the day went and why was it that, once again, you got no writing done.

There are people for whom this is a chronic condition. I have a friend who leaves early morning on an errand and comes back, late at night, having done a lot of small unconnected things, but not the errand.

Been there, done that.

There was a time when I, too, lived in that garbage heap, amid the obscenely unfinished story bits, novel ideas, dangling lines of poems, rotting remnants of chapters and books. I felt trapped and frustrated and needed a way out but everyone I asked was in the same leaky, listing, capsizing boat.

I had to turn inwards and look at my own behavior instead.

The breaks were the problem. Once I took a break I never returned. So I tried to take no breaks at all. That was even worse. My writing bogged down at once and my stress levels hit the roof.

So, I asked, what happens when I take a break?

That was when I saw that invisible, insidious second bird.

This is how it goes.

Every few hours, distraction hits. One shy bird alights on your shoulder whispering, don’t you want some coffee? Ignoring it does not help. It will not go away.

So, you follow the first bird and make a cup. So far, so good.

The mischief begins here. Distraction never comes alone. It comes in flocks. The first bird leads to a second, Now that you are up, why not finish that job you keep putting off?

If you go there it leads you to the graveyard of writing dreams.

It is difficult to see, but once I caught sight of that second bird, the solution turned out to be surprisingly easy and immediate to implement. It was one of the most important things I ever learned and it took me all the way to the publication of a book.

It worked for me. It worked for a few others who had the same problem. Maybe it will work for you and take you right to the threshold of your dreams.

This is the key.

That first bird is your friend. When it shows up, suggesting a break, take one. Even a long one. The length does not matter. You need that break to refresh and recharge. Take as many breaks as you need.

The second bird is your enemy, the masked and cloaked super villain who only wants to see your writing career die. It reminds you of all the things you have not done.

It has repetitive complaints–too hard, too long, too terrible.

This is too hard. How about working on that story you put away a year ago?

It’s taking too long, why not finish a quick one first?

The first draft is terrible, better try something else.

The second bird speaks in the voice of your doubts and fears and takes you down a very dark road indeed.

What you have to do is wait for it and recognize it.

When it does appear with its siren call, be firm, no, I am going right back to the very sentence I left. Be determined and return to the same page. Be clear in your mind, I will finish this before I go to anything else.

I always finish what I start. I am a finisher.

Get into the habit of finishing everything even if it is worthless. A particular story may be no good but the habit of finishing is worth all the wealth in the world.

That one small adjustment will enable you to leave the junkyard far behind and enter the blue summer skies of writing completion.

It’s a very simple rule.

Go with the first bird and take all the breaks. Relax, enjoy.

Then, return and pick up exactly where you left off.

Never, ever, follow that career destroying, morale sapping second bird.

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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. Her blog is at http://wordskies.wordpress.com.

 

 

by Andreé Robinson-Neal

Andree-New

August is known for the dog days of summer, described as the “most sultry period” of the warm season; it certainly fits the line-up of passionate and seductive pieces FFC dished up last month.

What better time than the first part of the month to consider submitting your flash fiction? August started with a snapshot of flash fiction markets that were waiting for your words. And speaking of words, we were treated to another visit from Matt Potter and some of the authors involved in the Year in Stories over at Pure Slush, who gave insight into the process of participating in the project. Be sure to visit Pure Slush to read the full interviews.

Susan Tepper connected with Robin Stratton for an in-depth UNCOV/rd discussion about genes, jeans, and love. Robin offers a number of salient points about inspiration, motivation, and how to weave a story from what may initially seem disparate ideas. Sarah Crysl Akhtar helped us keep those creative juices flowing, but in a different direction by reminding us to check under the bed twice; she offered us a well-received piece of horror fiction from the EDF Archives as the month continued to sizzle along.

Joanne Jagoda and Ethel Rohan took us for a mental ride as they each shared about their writing journeys. Jagoda white-knuckles us through the power of beshert and how it, combined with a “take this job and…” attitude, led her to a writing addiction. Rohan offers a few preciously spicy words about the rebelliousness of flash, while Sarah Crysl Akhtar allows us to ponder the possibilities of crafting a story around a character who, by her very nature, is a woman of few words, and provides powerful pointers on the importance of language; with proper attention, words become images that open a world of possibilities for both the reader and writer.

Jim Harrington took us to Singapore for a visit with the people behind The National Schools Literature Festival, which is an effort that encourages literature education for secondary school students. Participants have the opportunity to create flash fiction submissions of 200 words for the event.

As August turned the corner into its final full week, Christopher Bowen offered an in-depth review of T.A. Noonan’s Four Sparks Fall and introduces us to CCLaP Publishing. Julie Duffy brought us another entry in her continuing tour through genre, this time wrangling with slipstream with the help of E.S. Wynn, who reminds us that the final frontier is anything but. Aliza Greenblatt introduced us to EDF’s top author for July, Tina Wayland, who shares that her writing process is not neat or straightforward.

The month closed its doors on the unofficial end of summer right where it began by offering updates on flash markets. As we draw the shutters on the tourist stands and hustle the children back to school, let us grab our pads, pens, styluses, and keyboards if we allowed them to gather dust through the dog days–there are markets to conquer and flash stories waiting to be written. And as you peruse the FFC pages, you will see that our colleagues in the business are already busy as September moves forward!

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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.

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