characters


by Andreé Robinson-Neal

Andree-New

Happy 2015! Wait … we still have one 2014 loose end to tie: the Month in Review! In case you were tied up in wrapping paper or long lines, we want to give you a recap of the many bundles of joy our writers offered last month that you might have missed.

Mary-Jane Holmes got us into the spirit with one swan (as compared to seven) and shared how this lovely, creative, random, and original creature can develop into the best flash you’ve ever created. While we might have hoped for six geese to go along with Mary-Jane’s swan, Julie Duffy’s “A Funny Thing” did provide six delightful tips on how to craft a good comedic write. Or was it humor? Go check it out and decide for yourself.

We had no pear trees either but were treated to a peach of a list of flash fiction markets that each offered treasures of their own. Hopefully in between your holiday dinners and gift-giving you had time to write and these markets anxiously await your work. However, if you’re still agonizing over what you got down on that napkin between courses, know that you aren’t alone: James Claffey shared his thoughts on writing flash fiction and you might be re-inspired by his colorful explanation of his relationship to the genre. But if, like those ten lords rumored to have been jumping around for part of last month, you are leaping to submit your collection of flash fiction, check out the ten interview snippets from Bonnie ZoBell, who got the inside scoop on what some flash fiction editors and publishers say about story order. On the other hand, if you’re a few stories short of a collection, why not consider submitting one story to the Queen’s Ferry Press anthology? Jim Harrington got the particulars from editor Tara L. Masih, who shared that these anthologies collect the best and most innovative stories in a given year.

Some of the best gifts you’ll find in FFC are Susan Tepper’s UNCOV/rd pieces. Be sure to check out December’s offering with Harvey Araton, because it will be the last. Don’t worry — Susan will be back this year with something new, but in the meantime, enjoy her conversation with a journalist-author-who-writes-about-a-journalist.

And speaking of newspapers, Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s piece on inspiration was inspired by a recipe in the New York Times. Well, more to the point: the NYT recipe inspired a story and the whole experience inspired the piece. Get it? As Sarah said, inspiration comes from anywhere and you are sure to ponder the sources of your own as you read her December offering.

As our 2014 clock tick-tocked its way to a close, Aliza Greenblatt took a moment to introduce us to the EDF November top author, Angela Hui, whose story Birthday Girl got rave reviews. Before we close the book on 2014 and send our eleven pipers and twelve drummers back to the band, end your year with a laugh: Sarah Crysl Akhtar’s EDF Archive selection is a great topper from Samantha Memi.

Thank you for making 2014 a great year and we hope you’ll join us for more in flash fiction for 2015!

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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 Sarah Crysl Akhtar

 Sarah AkhtarWhen a fictional protagonist has suffered the death of a child, the writer needs about as much artistry as an AP news bulletin to get readers on her side. Anything more is gravy.

I think I’m fairly sophisticated, but just describing poignant stories I read forty years ago can make my voice tremble.

I can reread a book–even a mystery–until the pages disintegrate–and I’m forced to buy another copy. But I’ll never go near Ruth Rendell’s The Tree of Hands again, though I consider it one of her finest works. The scene in which Rendell’s protagonist walks out of the hospital where her small child has just died is something I cannot revisit.

Thomas Cromwell is regarded as one of history’s least beloved figures, but Hilary Mantel, in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, gives us a man loyally serving the purposes of his king while enduring the anguish of a bereaved father. To make someone who’s been a villain in countless historical novels understandable in all his complexities was a stunning achievement.

So why did I find a recent flash fiction story about a mother’s grief hilarious?

The author turned her protagonist into an idiot with some dreadful word choices:

Unfortunately, a wave rolled the vessel, trapping Nicole in the compartment.”

In writing about the most unspeakable experience a human being can live through, less is more. That “unfortunately” trivialized agony. It’s unfortunate to lose one’s job. It’s unbearable to lose one’s child.

Later, the bereaved mother imagines a journey to the site of her child’s death.

“Instead, Sharon walked down the hill to the rocky shore. If she swam far enough, dove deep enough, would she see her daughter again? She didn’t understand the currents the way her daughter had, however. She would never find her way to the Bering Sea.”

Had the author stopped after the second sentence of that paragraph, she’d have left readers with a powerful image of loss and longing.

She leaves us with a foolish one, instead. That word “however” turns grieving reflection into what reads like a possible plan thwarted only by the fear of getting lost.

We all understand the protagonist isn’t actually thinking of leaping into the Atlantic Ocean (the story is set in New England) and performing the prodigious feat of circumnavigating the globe til she finds her daughter’s watery grave. So why put that silly imagery into our heads?

This cannot be said too often, whether you’re writing flash, poetry or novels. Every word matters. One misstep can blow the whole thing up.

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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 Andreé Robinson-Neal

Andree-New

Hopefully you all survived the three most momentous days of November: Gray Thursday, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday. And if shopping and eating were not on your list of to-do’s for the month, Flash Fiction Chronicles had more than enough to keep you occupied. The month began with a visit with Rolli and a review of his latest book, I Am Currently Working on a Novel, which is enough to distract you from whatever else you planned to do online today. R.L. Black added to the distraction by giving us fantastic tips about writing spooky flash fiction. She points us to the things that make great flash but takes it further with one primary pointer for writing horror flash: “write what scares you.”

Some might interpret the slope as John’s descent, but he’d have to arrive somewhere first before having a drop off and I don’t think he reaches the pinnacle of anything other than his own misery.

That wonderful line is from Susan Tepper’s chat with Richard Fulco for November’s UNCOV/rd. He’s talking about the main character of his debut novel, There Is No End to This Slope. You will most certainly want to slip your credit cards away after you pick up this morsel.

For many parts of the world, November is a solid mark of fall—brown leaves, cooler temperatures—and drives writers in front of their space heaters or fireplaces to conjure unplagiarized versions of dark and stormy nights. Elizabeth Maria Naranjo gets us in the mood for what comes next: the editing process. Many writers hate self-editing but hate having their work dissected by someone else even more. If you came up with the next best seller during the month for NaNoWriMo, give her article a once-over so you know how to react when you take a first look at the mark-up after editing. But before you click “send” to get your tome into the hands of your editor, consider Cameron Filas‘ suggestion to make notes from previous rejections and comb through that manuscript first. He takes us old-school by suggesting sticky notes, but he advises we can keep it high-tech, too. And before you decide to chuck the idea of using a third-party editor (instead of your best friend), give Sarah Crysl Akhtar’s piece on what a real editor will tell you and how it helps your writing a good once-over.

If you are not a flash fiction writer but want to give it a go, Mark Budman offers practical points and examples of how it’s done. He even reminds us that “flash writers are the enemies of fat.” Perhaps his article should have come along in January when we make our New Year’s resolutions … Fortunately RK Biswas’s review of  My Very End of the Universe – Five Novellas-in-Flash and a Study of the Form is a giant bellyful of flash and skill-builders. Rose Metal Press offers this hefty volume, not just for our reading pleasure, but to help us learn the what’s and how’s of “doing flash.”

Speaking of how to do flash, Aliza Greenblatt introduces us to Jeff Switt, the EDF Top Author for October, whose piece “Halloween Coming Out” gives us a sample of someone who has a handle on this flash business. Gila Green offers us a step-by-step for building character-driven flash in which we cut the fat and get on with the enjoyment of writing.

As we neared the end of November, Jim Harrington brought back an interesting quote for us to sink our teeth into. The point is something that serves as a main ingredient in most of the posts from the month: tell the story. And the period on the sentence? Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s share from the EDF Archive, in which the author offered a great story that, as she says, is also “a perfect example for writers on why less is so often more.”

Hopefully our November offerings satiated your mental hunger pains for flash and more! Be sure to visit for more this month.

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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 Gila Green

Gila Green

An abbreviated version of this post first appeared at WOW-Women on Writing.

I have great news for flash writers. There’s no reason why you cannot write character-driven flash fiction. You do have time to create a compelling character. The catch is that you can only create one really undeniably forceful character, so you need to do it well. Briefly, character-driven fiction is popular and fun to read and write. It focuses on the emotions and inner conflict of the protagonist vs. an action-packed plot that dominates the story. Really great writing contains both, but many writers need to strengthen one or the other.

Character-driven flash fiction is different from all other forms of character-driven fiction in two ways. The first is that your heroine can have only one compelling goal (hint: it’s usually a character’s need to go towards something or to go away from something).

This leads us to the second major difference: all of your compelling character’s qualities must be there to back up this need only.

For example, if the main goal of your seventeen-year-old heroine is to get herself thrown out of school, so that she can hop a bus to see her boyfriend, you must make sure she is interesting (read: we care if she achieves her goal or not), flawed (i.e., she cannot be totally justified in her desires) and that your entire focus is on her one defining moment. You don’t have time to explain why her boyfriend moved, why her mother forbids her to skip school, how they met or their future hopes.

You do have time to write about the moment her best friend pretends to faint, so that she can offer to get a nurse and slip off to the bus stop only to be met by her raging father/to see her handicapped boyfriend in the arms of another girl/to get hit by the bus/ choose the wrong bus and end up saving someone’s life/return to the classroom and confess that she cannot lie to her favorite teacher. I could go on, but you get the idea.

You’re wasting time describing her hair and eye color and favorite cake decorating hobby. You’re on the right track if you tell us that she’s never been able to pull off a prank (or the opposite, that she’s known as an untrustworthy prankster), or that she has a neatly packed suitcase of clothes hidden in the bushes by the bus stop (or you guessed it, the opposite, she plans on taking nothing but her favorite pen knife along for the ride).

Do you see the difference? In a novel or short story you’d have plenty of time for a physical description, but for character-driven flash, physical description is only important if it supports her main goal or her defining moment. If she’s so thin that she can slip out the window, or so heavy that the only way out of the room is the front door, then yes, put it in. Otherwise, delete it.

Most of all, if you are enjoying every minute of writing about this character, there is an excellent chance your readers will, too.

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Canadian Gila Green moved to Israel in 1994. Her novel King of the Class was released in April 2013 by NON Publishing, Vancouver. Her stories and articles appear in tens of literary magazines in the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, Israel, UK and Hong Kong. Her collection, White Zion, is a finalist for the Doris Bakwin Award and her work has been short-listed for WordSmitten’s TenTen Fiction Contest, the Walrus Literary Award, the Eric Hoffer Best New Writing Award and the Ha’aretz Short Fiction Award. She’s been teaching fiction on the WOW-Women on Writing site since 2009. Her next classes in Flash Fiction and Literary Devices begin January 12. Please visit: www.gilagreenwrites.com

 

by Susan Tepper

Richard Fulco
Richard Fulco received an MFA in Playwriting from Brooklyn College. His plays have been either presented or developed at The New York International Fringe Festival, The Playwrights’ Center, The Flea, Here Arts Center, Chicago Dramatists and the Dramatists Guild. His stories, reviews and interviews have appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Failbetter, Front Porch, Bound Off, The Rusty Toque, Full of Crow, Nth Position, the Daily Vault and American Songwriter. He is the founder of the online music magazine Riffraf. There Is No End to This Slope is his first novel. Learn more about Richard at the following: www.riffraf.net, www.wampus.com, and www.richardfulco.com.

Susan Tepper: You’ve titled your debut novel There Is No End To This Slope. It’s a compelling title that could be interpreted in many ways. Does it imply optimism or the other direction for you?

Fulco_book_cover

Richard Fulco: Well, the novel shifts back and forth between Staten Island and Park Slope. Hence, “slope.” While I was working on the novel, the image of John Lenza lugging a suitcase filled with textbooks up and down the slopes of Park Slope, Brooklyn was a powerful one. For the most part, I envision John going uphill, never quite reaching the top.

>The Myth of Sisyphus played an instrumental role in the development of the novel. Whereas Sisyphus eventually rolls the boulder up the hill, only to have it roll back down, I don’t think John ever makes it to the top of the precipice. He doesn’t allow himself the opportunity to embrace the journey. Perhaps he’s so fixated on the destination, but for him there is no destination either. One must have a task before venturing out. John doesn’t know what his task is.

Some might interpret the slope as John’s descent, but he’d have to arrive somewhere first before having a drop off and I don’t think he reaches the pinnacle of anything other than his own misery.

ST: Your protagonist, John Lenza, I see as a decent guy wearing two little females on his shoulders: the angel-female (Stephanie) and the devil-female (Emma). He is man in the middle of a conundrum when the book opens. It’s cool, and grabbed me right away. It forces the reader to take a side and become involved.

RF: Thank you, but it wasn’t my intention to coerce the reader into taking a side. John idealizes his long lost friend, Stephanie. After she died, he harbors guilt for more than twenty years. When he and Emma break-up, he even idealizes her. This is what John does. It’s his modus operandi.

John is an emotionally unstable individual who is unhappy with the present, so what does he do? He delves into the past where it’s dependable, unchanging and glorified. This is the way he operates. Stephanie’s death consoles him. Therefore, as a middle-aged man he writes letters to her. His finds solace in his divorce, so while he’s in Seattle, thinking about leaving Brooklyn behind, he writes poems about Emma.

ST: In a scene between the unhappily married John and Emma, he does a silly dance in his underwear and tries to convince her to have sex with him. Emma blows him off. Internally he is thinking: Even though I was approaching middle age, the need to be needed was as intense as ever.

I found this interesting in the sense that it seems to be the driving force behind John and the life choices he makes. I don’t sense this emotional quality in Emma at all.

RF: John is not unique in his desire to be loved and needed and adored and celebrated. All of us crave these things. We all want to be superheroes. The only problem with the desire to be a superhero is that most of us are just ordinary, average blobs of flesh (and I mean that in the kindest way possible).

Ordinary folks rarely do extraordinary things, and in John’s case he focuses on external things, things that are out of his control rather than stuff that he can get a handle on such as his job, writing and addiction problems.

John needs help. He’s not willing to ask for it. He’s not willing to accept it. But he is more than willing to live in this imaginary world that he’s built in his mind. Fantasy sustains him whereas reality disables him.

ST: Despite the protagonists ‘angst’ over his dead love, and his difficult wife, Emma, there is a lot of humor in this novel. To me, there’s a Woody Allen aspect to John, in that he’s a tad neurotic about, well, a lot of things. The scene in the doctor’s office when John is getting a rectal exam threw me into spasmodic laughter. Your delivery was so deadpan, which made the scene work so well.

RF: Thank you, Susan.

I hope that readers sympathize with John Lenza and laugh with him (or at him). He’s a fool. He’s Yorick not Prince Hamlet. He’s not even J. Alfred Prufrock or Woody Allen.

He is deeply neurotic, insecure and nebbish and I can see that he is Woody Allen-esque. However, I’m not sure that John shares Allen’s intellect. Woody Allen’s character, in say the earlier films – Annie Hall and Manhattan – might be somewhat sympathetic, but by his later films – Whatever Works and Midnight in Paris – you just want to string the guy up. He’s detestable, infantile and idealistic. The same could be said, I guess, about my protagonist. By the end of the novel, I suspect most readers will be fed up with John’s shenanigans.

ST: It’s interesting to hear an author take a strong stance ‘against’ a character who is, after all, their creation. I have always felt rather close to my most vile characters. Personally, I’m not remotely fed up with what you call ‘John’s shenanigans’.

Over the course of the winter I began reading James Baldwin’s Another Country. It’s filled with pretty vile characters, but they are ‘human in their frailties’ and I believe it is their weaknesses that draws the reader. I found the same with your characters, even the most annoying such as Emma. I think you write your characters from the empathy section of your brain and that’s what makes this book so good.

RF: The truth is, I’m not the most sympathetic person in the world, so in early drafts Emma Rue and Dawn Bello don’t come across as sympathetic characters.

As I continued to hone both characters, I found more compassion for both of them. I was careful not to demonize them or John (for that matter). Frailties, flaws and shortcomings are what makes us human. All three of them do vile things, but that’s the way life works. Good people do vile things. Good people either rectify those vile things, forgive themselves and others and move on. Or in John’s case, they struggle to move on.

I hope that Emma, Dawn and John’s weaknesses are what makes them captivating characters. In the drafting process, it was extremely gratifying to watch them develop.

ST: I’m glad you seemed to like them all by the book’s end. I feel it’s a good thing to like our characters, despite how they might strike the readers

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Susan-Tepper200w

Susan Tepper has authored 5 published books. The latest is a novel in stories called The Merrill Diaries, from Pure Slush Books. She is a named finalist in storySouth Million Writers Award for 2014, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in fiction (2010), and nine times for the Pushcart Prize. Tepper is a staff editor at Flash Fiction Chronicles where she conducts the interview series UNCOV/rd. www.susantepper.com

 

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