fiction


by Bonnie ZoBell

Evan Kingston, the fiction editor at Red Bird Chapbooks lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. He writes fiction, runs the frozen aisle in a grocery store, and maintains a blog on the relationship between literature and humor called The Oldest Jokes in the World. He is currently self-publishing a serial novel called Slash, and his short fiction can be found at Versus Literary Journal and Revolver

Bonnie ZoBell:  Hi Evan. Thanks for coming by to give our readers some insight into chapbooks in general and Red Bird Chapbooks in particular. I want to say right up front that one of the first things you told me was that you’d “especially like to do this if it encourages your readers to submit their work to Red Bird. In our current submission period, I’d estimate poetry is outweighing fiction three to one, and I want to change that.” Music to our readers’ ears! Do you want to say anything more about this?

Evan Kingston: Poetry has dominated the chapbook scene for so long, that even I was a little skeptical when our founding editor, Dana, approached me about becoming a fiction editor at the press. I’d been amazed by the gorgeous books of poetry and great community readings Red Bird had been putting on, but didn’t even know fiction was something the press would consider. Luckily, she assured me they had some submissions that needed an editor, so I took the challenge, started reading manuscripts and was surprised and energized by the possibilities.

In the year since I took the position, I’ve tried, with the help of our other fiction editor, Alida Winternheimer, to up the profile of fiction in the chapbook world. The best way to do this is obviously by publishing great fiction chapbooks and showing that they’re a quick, intimate way for fiction writers to get their work out there. So far, I think it is working because after releasing more fiction titles in the past year than ever before, we’ve seen a decent upswing in fiction submissions this period. That said, I know there are even more writers out there looking for a way to get their work to an audience, so I hope we continue to grow.

And there’s still time to correct the disparity: our current submission period is open through October 31st. Check out Possibilities Formerly Known as Submissions for more details.

BZ:  I notice when I look at your site that another thing Red Bird does besides chapbooks is broadsides. Could you tell us what those are?

EK:  For our broadsides, we asked an artist to respond to a poem and paired the results in a lovely piece of fine art celebrating both mediums. The project, currently on hiatus, concluded before my time working at Red Bird, but I did buy several as a fan; there is really no better way to use your love of literature to decorate your space.

I don’t think broadsides need to be reserved for poetry either; I’d love to see some great flash fiction broadsides hanging over my couch some day.

BZ:  Why were they discontinued?

EK: We’re taking some time to reconsider our approach to the project while focusing exclusively on our chapbooks for a year.

BZ:  Does Red Bird Chapbooks have a philosophy?

EK: Our main goal is helping writers bring their work to the writing community. Our chapbooks, made with care, attention to detail, and an eye towards design that complements each individual project, are a great tool for a starting writer to connect with and grow an audience. Chapbooks are accessible and affordable to readers, and provide a personal, intimate connection that is often lost in other formats.

BZ:  What would you say your press is looking for in the way of fiction chapbook submissions?

EK:  I want a cohesive manuscript; whether it is one longer short story, a collection of several shorts, or a dozen flash fiction pieces, I want them to hold together both stylistically and thematically. Past that, I don’t have any specific genre or style I’m looking for, just a well-told story.

Maybe it goes hand in hand with cohesion, but my only other must-have is some sense of completion. Even with a one-paragraph piece of flash fiction, I want to feel that sense of unique satisfaction only a story with a beginning, middle, and end can give.

BZ:  What mistakes do you see fiction writers making who submit to you?

EK:  Silly errors in grammar and spelling. I want to spend my time as an editor helping the writer revise for content, pushing the manuscript to new heights, not just fixing it up into a form you wouldn’t be embarrassed to hand in to a high school English class.

BZ:  Name a few fiction writers whose chapbooks Red Bird Chapbooks has published and tell us a few words about their books.

EK: The first manuscript I accepted as fiction editor was Family Affair by Shaun Rouser. The stories in the collection, though populated by very different characters, all had such a strongly linked voice and theme, they made me realize the unique possibilities a fiction chapbook presents.

Joe Baumann’s collection of flash fiction, Ivory Children, is another favorite of mine. He packs such vividly surreal scenes into just a few paragraphs that this collection is more full of striking images than any other I’ve come across.

With flash fiction, I’m always wary of it feeling unfinished, so I was very excited to help publish Eirik Gumeny’s Storybook Romance. By referencing fairy tales, each of the vignettes in this collection manages to imply a complete story, while adding fresh insight to the familiar stories.

BZ:  If you could put a fold-out in one of your chapbooks, who or what would it be of?

EK: As a youngster, I always loved immersive fantasy books with little maps included, so I think I would want a huge, hand-drawn map. And for fun, I’d make it as confusing to fold back up as a road-atlas. This week, we are assembling our latest fiction offering, “Niagara Falls,” a short story by Beth Mayer about a road trip that would be a perfect fit. Maybe it isn’t too late to stop the presses…

BZ: Talk a little about the production of Red Bird’s fiction chapbooks. What size are they? How are they made? Perfect bound, stapled, or? How much color do you use? What is the page range of most of them?

EK: We like to experiment and fit each book to its contents, but for the most part, they the size of a sheet of standard paper folded in half, with hand-sewn bindings, up to 48 pages. We print with archival ink on archival quality paper, black and white insides with full color covers. We especially love to collaborate with local artists on our covers.

BZ:  Do you accept fiction manuscripts all year round, or only during certain times of the year?

EK: We accept submissions in all genres from August 15th to October 31st, so there is still time to submit this year.

BZ: Are you interested in fiction chapbooks from new writers who haven’t had books or chapbooks published before? 

EK:  None of the authors I’ve worked with so far have previously published books and only one has a previously published chapbook; we’re dedicated to finding fresh work and helping authors find an audience for it.

BZ:  How many stories in the chapbooks submitted to you do you like to see already published?

EK:  We use a blind submission process so the author’s name and previous accomplishments don’t play into our decision process.

BZ:  Thanks so much for all this helpful information, Evan. I hope you’ll get some fiction chapbook submissions from our readers.

______________

Bonnie ZoBell

Bonnie ZoBell’s fiction chapbook The Whack-Job Girls with Monkey Puzzle Press was released in March 2013 and her short story collection WHAT HAPPENED HERE is forthcoming with Press 53 in spring 2014. She’s received an NEA fellowship for her fiction, teaches at San Diego Mesa College, and is Associate Editor of The Northville Review. For more information, visit www.bonniezobell.com.

by Aliza T. Greenblatt

Flash Fiction Chronicles interviewed Kevin McNeil about Every Day Fiction’s Top Story for January, “The Merry Jester“  a story about a family heirloom and the power of faith.

Aliza T. GreenblattFrom your short bio it seems like you have been active in the writing community; attending two intense workshops, reading for Lightspeed and Nightmare, as well as conducting a few author interviews yourself.  From doing a quick search (and correct me if I’m wrong), “The Merry Jester” appears to be your first published story.  Congratulations!  How does it feel to be a published writer?

Kevin McNeil

Kevin McNeilThank you!  And you’re right. “The Merry Jester” is my first published story.  I began writing fiction in 2010, and attended Kij Johnson’s novel writing workshop in 2011, which was my first chance to learn some of the fundamentals.  So I’m still pretty new to all of this, and up until now, I’d pretty much kept everything I’d written to myself.  Putting things out there is scary, but it feels great to see it on-line at Every Day Fiction.

ATGCan you tell me a little about your writing process for this story?

KM:  My approach to this story was very different from how I normally work.  I blame Jeanne Cavelos, who is the director of the Odyssey Writing Workshop, which I attended in 2012.  One of the requirements of the workshop is the Odyssey Slam, where everyone in the class reads a flash story at a Barnes and Nobles.  I hadn’t written any flash stories, so I worked this up in order to have something to read

I’ll be honest — my only goal was to write something I could read without embarrassing myself.  I deliberately excluded dialogue in order to make the reading easier.  I’m still at a stage where most of what I write is an experiment to improve some aspect of my writing.  In this case, I wanted to write something very focused, with a consistent tone, that would get me back into my seat before anyone realized I didn’t know what I was doing.  And in the end, the Odyssey Slam turned out to be a great time.

ATG: Your bio says you work as a physical therapist and that you are a coach for the Special Olympics.  Has working with people who are combating personal challenges influenced this piece at all?  Or was it inspired by something else altogether?

KM:  I’m sure the work I do with people overcoming injuries and dealing with personal challenges influences most things in my life.  I love getting people back on their feet, and coaching kids I consider to be the greatest athletes in the world is incredibly rewarding.  In the case of this story, if my background was an influence at all, it was unconscious.

The inspiration for this story was a wooden marionette (like the one I described) my wife and I purchased while we were traveling in Prague a few years ago.  I usually like to take my time and plot out my story ideas, but with this one I just thought about the marionette and wrote to see what I’d come up with.  At first, it seemed to be straight horror, where the jester wasn’t such a good thing to have around your house.  Eventually, the story ended up in another direction, exploring the idea of faith, which is why there are some hints to religion in the word choices.

ATG:Part of what I found so interesting about this story is the idea of value and how it changes as a person changes, though the object remains the same.  The jester becomes more valuable when Matthew has more in life to lose.  Do you think the jester is created to protect its family or is it Matthew’s belief in it that gives it power?

KM:  I suppose this could be interpreted however the reader wants, but for me it’s Matthew’s belief that gives the jester power.  Belief is powerful.  There’s a Henry Ford quote I like: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”  In my experience, what you focus on, what you believe, is what you get.  We’re able to give a lot of things power in this way.  And if we believe we’re right (politics, religion, whatever), it’s difficult to convince us we might be wrong.

ATG: By the end of the story, Matthew suffers from a form of survivor’s guilt.  He comes to both love and fear the jester and will never let any harm come to it.  But it makes me wonder, what sort of stories will Matthew tell his daughter about the puppet, knowing that she will one day have to face its painted smile?  How will he handle his own guilt?

KM:  This is a tough question.  I left Matthew in a confused place where he needs the jester, but is also beginning to question it in some ways.  But I think Matthew is committed.  He’ll deal with his guilt, thinking it’s what he has to do to protect his family.  He believes what he’s been told about the jester, and he’s seen enough to confirm these things for himself.  I think Matthew will pass the information on to his daughter as it was told to him, so that she and her future family will also be able to live a healthy life.  But I don’t know if the faith of the next generation is ever as strong as the previous one.  What I wonder is whether the daughter will truly value the jester, or if she’ll end up putting it in a box in a closet.

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

KM:  Right now I’m completely focused on short stories – working on my own ideas, and also reading stories for Lightspeed and Nightmare.  I have a sports mentality, and a lot to learn, so I feel like I’m still in training, putting in my practice time, trying new techniques, and challenging myself.  I’m just beginning to submit stories to magazines.  Even “The Merry Jester” took some arm-twisting from a friend to finally submit to Every Day Fiction.  I’m enjoying the work right now, and hopefully I’ll have some more out there for people to read soon – as much as that scares me.

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

KM:  Thanks for the great questions, Aliza.  Every Day Fiction had some really great stories in January.  So thanks to everyone who enjoyed “The Merry Jester.”

 

____________________________________________

Kevin McNeil reads slush at Lightspeed Magazine and is an editorial assistant at Nightmare Magazine. He is a physical therapist, sports fanatic, and volunteer coach for the Special Olympics. He graduated from the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2012 and The Center for the Study of Science Fiction’s Intensive Novel Workshop, led by Kij Johnson, in 2011. Kevin is a New Englander currently living in California. Find him on Twitter @kevinmcneil.

____________________________________________

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 Erin Entrada Kelly

Have you ever met the Plot Device Character? You know him. Trust me. He’s the guy who lounges around a story, does his job and takes off. He doesn’t have much to say outside his archetype and you never really get to know him, except by simple adjectives. Sometimes he’s Bad. Sometimes he’s Good. He may even be Wise. But he’s rarely Believable or Interesting.

The Plot Device Character is there to perform a specific function. Maybe he’s the Bad Husband who gets your main character, a long-suffering wife, to discover her own independence. Maybe he’s the Evil Lord, in contrast to your Good Guy. Perhaps she’s the Young Daughter who helps the Lost Dad find his way. One thing all these PDCs have in common is that they exist to bring a story from points A to B.

Unfortunately, many writers have their PDCs so securely tucked in their pigeonholes that they fail to be three-dimensional. Writers have their bigger stories in mind and the PDC is just a cog in that plot machine, often seen as disposable once his or her task has been accomplished.

There’s nothing wrong with having characters serve specific purposes in a story – obviously not, since that is why they exist – but as soon as readers discover that you have a plot machine, your story begins to falter. Readers want to lose themselves in your story. They want an escape. They want to share a sliver of life with someone else, namely, your character and the others who people your story. They don’t want to see the wizard behind the curtain. It destroys the experience in the same way that a stumbled line ruins live theater or a flickering projector ruins a good movie.

As difficult as it is to believe, there is no such thing as a one-dimensional person, so there shouldn’t be any such person in your story.

Let’s say this is the one-sentence pitch of your story: Woman finds independence after suffering at the hands of her abusive husband. Many writers, especially when sitting down at that first draft, will gear their story directly toward that pitch. The woman suffers. Her husband is awful – and here are the scenes to prove it. Husband enters, acts like a tyrant, husband exits. The story moves along toward the final climax: Woman fights back. The end.

But to truly appreciate the complexity of this story, to truly delve into the woman’s life and experience it as she does, we don’t just need to know about the wife. We need to know about her husband. Yes, we know he’s a tyrant. Yes, we know he’s evil and she doesn’t deserve the way she’s treated. But is he human? Is he believable? Or is he just a PDC?

He doesn’t have to snuggle up with puppy dogs or rescue kittens from burning buildings, but for the story to truly reach a triumphant climax, he has to be an actual three-dimensional person. Being the Bad Guy to your Good Girl just doesn’t cut it. We need to experience him in life, as our main character does. Maybe he has chronic sciatica after working twelve hours at the factory. Maybe he grudgingly takes his mother to the doctor every Tuesday. Your goal isn’t to make him a sympathetic pitiful antihero. Your goal is to make him real. Because when your story is real, your readers can escape into it.

Go into your story and your drafts. Look at your characters. Think about them. Can they walk off your pages on their own two feet? Have you considered each character as an individual, or only in relation to the main character?

They are all cogs. Just make sure they’re working.

_____________________________________

Erin Entrada Kelly is staff editor for Flash Fiction Chronicles. Her fiction has been published widely in places like Keyhole Magazine, Monkeybicycle and the Kyoto Journal. She was short-listed for the Eric Hoffer National Fiction Prize and the Philippines Free Press Literary Award for Short Fiction. Her debut novel is forthcoming from HarperCollins’ Greenwillow Books. She currently works at Swarthmore College. Read more at www.erinentradakelly.com. Find her on Twitter here.

by Erin Entrada Kelly

Years ago I wrote a short story that received a resounding chorus of identical feedback from editors. The feedback went something like this: ‘Great story, but there’s no resolution’ and/or ‘This is great—but where’s the rest?’ I sat down with the story again, poised with a rewrite pen, and racked my brain for some kind of ending. After a while, I put it in a drawer and let it be. I couldn’t figure out an ending because there was no clear resolution. Life is unresolved sometimes, I thought. Life doesn’t tie itself up in pretty little bows.

It took me a while to appreciate that one of the reasons people enjoy literature—flash or otherwise—is because it allows us to escape out of our own unresolved, un-bow-tied situations. We want something better for the characters we acquaint ourselves with; we want something to change for them, or at least for the story, and we’ll take these changes for better or worse. It doesn’t have to be happily-ever-after, but it has to be something.

That’s it, really. That’s what makes an ending. Something needs to change. The situation, the person(s), the emotional quotient of the character(s). Things won’t always end well for the characters we write, but we know that it’s ended when something about the story becomes something else. As readers, we want to experience someone else’s experience, and that means going through all the peaks and valleys. The valleys aren’t as interesting without the peaks and vice versa. Just as in real life. If life were a plateau, how would we know how it feels to walk uphill or slide downhill?

So how do you know when you’ve reached the end? How do you know if the ending works? You walk the path of your story. When you reach the end, you turn around and stare back at the beginning. If you see a flat horizon, then you need to keep walking.

______________________________________________

Erin Entrada Kelly is staff editor for Flash Fiction Chronicles. Her fiction has been published widely in places like Keyhole Magazine, Monkeybicycle and the Kyoto Journal. She was short-listed for the Eric Hoffer National Fiction Prize and the Philippines Free Press Literary Award for Short Fiction. Her debut novel is forthcoming from HarperCollins’ Greenwillow Books. She currently works at Swarthmore College and is represented by the Jenks Agency. Read more at www.erinentradakelly.com. Find her on Twitter here.

by Erin Entrada Kelly

Come with me into someone’s apartment, where there’s a nonsensical conversation going on. It sounds like this:

Person A: “What was dental health like in the old days—like, around the Middle Ages, about? Or the Renaissance, or something?”

Person B: “I’ve thought about this. I’ve thought about this, and you—you know—you have to see, you have to think about, the fact that in the Middle Ages, the stuff they ate. Their diet. They didn’t eat a lot of things we eat now. We have all these chemicals in our food that they didn’t have back then.”

Person A: “Yeah, uh, that’s true. I was just thinking about how they didn’t have, like, traditional toothbrushes or um, traditional toothpaste, or—what did they use again?”

Based on this snippet, you probably made a few assumptions: 1) These two speakers are a tad goofy. 2) These two speakers aren’t very well educated. 3) These two speakers don’t know how to speak.

You would be wrong on all except point one, which is debatable.

This is a conversation I recently had in my own household. I am Person A. Person B is Jen, another educated writer with strong oral and written communication skills who has a non-fiction history book under her belt. So, what’s the deal?

The deal is this: You are reading the conversation, rather than hearing it. True, our chatter about medieval teeth isn’t going to rock the history world, but the actual verbal conversation wasn’t nearly as goofy as it appears here, on your computer screen. Why? Because the way people talk in real life and the way people talk on paper—or, for our purposes, in stories—isn’t necessarily transferable.

As writers, we rarely have the need or opportunity to write dialogue precisely as it is spoken in real life. The secret to fantastic dialogue is to make it seem as if readers are eavesdropping on actual, verbatim conversations, in which every word rings true and characterizations are clear. We have to learn how to write the way people speak without actually writing the way people speak. If you listen to actual dialogue, you’ll hear just how strange and stunted it actually is.

Dialogue is an essential storytelling tool. That’s been true for virtually every piece of fiction (and non-fiction, for that matter) that I have ever read or edited. Over the years I’ve encountered some similar and repetitive dialogue problems. Not all of them are outlined here, but here are a few highlights:

Writing in dialect. Writing in dialect is an enormous challenge, particularly for the novice writer. Kudos to you, if you write in dialect. It can be done—and it can be done well—but tread lightly, unless you’re Toni Morrison or Mark Twain (neither of whom are reading this, I suspect). Two pieces of very brief advice: 1) Know the rules of the region. Don’t assume you know them. Really, really know them. I’m currently reading a book in which one “Southern” character says to another character (a single woman traveling alone): “Y’all can eat crayfish when y’all get back to the hotel.” I cringed. For Southerners, “y’all” is not interchangeable among the singular and plural in the same way as “you.” And—we don’t call them crayfish. How do I know these things? Because I was raised in Louisiana. Unlike the writer, who is a lifelong New Yorker. 2) Choose your dialect battles. If you’ve written solid characterizations outside of dialogue, then “What you havin’ for dinner and what time you goin’ to the store?” will have the same effect as “Whatcha havin’ for dinner ’n what time is ya’ll gone to the store?”, with less of the distraction.

Make sure your dialogue is useful. Every word. Dialogue should move the story along, not stall it.

Understand how people talk. Then learn how to tweak it to fit your work. While it may be true that 40-year-olds use the word “like” from time to time, understand that it’s mostly used as an interjection for the younger sect, particularly teenagers. If you have a scatterbrained character, make his dialogue scatterbrained. Have you ever noticed that people with busy brains often speak in a series of incomplete sentences? “You know, Eloise, I was just thinking—I don’t know if you think this is a good idea, but—last night, I saw this really bizarre sight, almost like a shooting star, or—no, not a shooting star, more like a comet—and it got me thinking …” Or that those who are timid or uncertain often clarify their speech with vague words? “I was thinking that maybe we should go to the movies. What do you think?” Compare that to a person who is sure of herself and confident: “Let’s go to the movies.” Or one who is demanding, controlling: “We’re going to the movies.”

Dialogue is not a dumping ground for background information. When you go to your sister’s house, you don’t start off a conversation with, “Hey, sis, remember last week when you started telling me about the problems you’ve been having with your husband Ron, and how you’re not sure if you can pay the mortgage next month and you think maybe he’s having an affair with his secretary?” That’s not the way people talk. Instead, people say things like: “Hey, I’ve been thinking about that conversation we had last week …” If you find yourself compelled to use dialogue only as a dumping ground for back story, you can bet that the dialogue won’t be strong.

Contractions are your friend. In most informal speech, people use contractions. You should, too. I’m not going to walk into my daughter’s room and say, “I have told you a million times. You are going to be grounded if you do not turn down your stereo. I will take away your phone as punishment,” only to have her say, “You do not understand, Mother. I will turn it down after this song. I will not be able to sleep without my music.” People. Don’t. Talk. That. Way. They say things like: “I’ve told you a million times to turn down that stereo or you’ll be grounded!” or “You don’t understand, Mom! I can’t sleep without my music!”

Now that I’ve blabbed on for, like, twelve-hundred words, maybe you should, like, you know, get to working on that—uh—that, work-in-progress.

___________________________________________________________________________________

Erin Entrada Kelly is staff editor for Flash Fiction ChroniclesHer debut novel is forthcoming from HarperCollins’ Greenwillow Books and her short fiction has been published widely in places like Keyhole Magazine, Monkeybicycle and the Kyoto Journal. She was short-listed for the Eric Hoffer National Fiction Prize and the Philippines Free Press Literary Award for Short Fiction. She currently works at Swarthmore College and as a freelance writer and editor. She also trudges through the slush for Stupefying Stories. Read more at www.erinentradakelly.com. Find her on Twitter here.

Next Page »