Flash Fiction


 

by Gay Degani

Michelle Elvy

 Michelle Elvy is a writer, editor and manuscript assessor based in New Zealand and currently sailing in Southeast Asia aboard Momo. She edits at Blue Five Notebook, Flash Frontier and Awkword Paper Cut, where she also curates the Writers on Writing column. She is an Associate Editor for the forthcoming Flash Fiction International (W.W. Norton, 2015), and has guest edited at Smokelong Quarterly and lent her reading eye to a number of competitions. Her poetry, flash, nonfiction and reviews can be found in numerous journals, most recently in JMWW, Word Riot, The Linnet’s Wings, Takahē, Ika, Html Giant and PANK. More at michelleelvy.com and Glow Worm.

Gay Degani: Somewhere on the Flash Fiction Day site or your own blog spot, I saw this quotation: “Because life is short. And so is some of the best fiction.”I love that. Are you the founder of National Flash Fiction Day in New Zealand or is there a group who decided to launch this enterprise?

Flag_of_New_Zealand Michelle Elvy: I am the founder. National Flash Fiction Day was born on the road between Northland and Auckland one day in early 2012. I had tremendous support in the first two years from Sian Williams, who also was the first co-editor at Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction. Since 2012, National Flash Fiction Day has grown, and we now have a committee of five in our creative brain trust, covering the whole country and making it a truly national project – from Northland to Auckland to Wellington to Christchurch.

That quote – our tag-line for NFFD – came flying out of my mouth one day and stuck. I like the idea that some of the best things in life come in small packages.

GD: You say that National Flash Fiction Day has grown.  Can you talk a little about some of the things you’re doing to make this “celebration” fun and informative?

ME: It feels like a grassroots kind of thing, growing from one starting point and spreading out from there. I hatched the idea, sure, and I still run the national competition and serve as a central contact point for the various events around the county, but in the last three years, NFFD has become a celebration within smaller writing communities as well, so there is both a national component as well as a local rallying around flash every June, with regional activities and competitions as well.

During our first year, we were mainly Auckland-based. This year, we saw three events occur simultaneously in our three main cities, Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland. The success of those events was hugely due to the organizers on the ground in each place. I helped co-ordinate from afar, but all went smoothly with our regional co-ordinators taking charge. Our two judges this year were from Wellington and Christchurch, respectively, so they were able to extend their congratulations in a personal manner.

We put a lot of effort into running the national competition as smoothly as possible and lining up details so the winners would be announced at all three events simultaneously. It is quite a lot of work, since it’s not only a national competition occurring online, but a series of real events with readers, judges, readings, prizes, celebrations, etc. I’m grateful for the people who make it happen as it grows bigger and more complex each year.

GD: What is your definition of flash fiction?

ME: Flash fiction is a complete story (emphasis on complete) compacted down to a tiny space – the space of a page or the palm of your hand. A good flash story contains the essentials, and then something else too – something that is often hard to put your finger on but that makes the story feel full, even if the word count is sparse.

GD: What are some of the wrong assumptions new writers make about flash?

ME: Here are five quick notes. I offer more at The Lascaux Review.

  • Flash is not accomplished in broad strokes and it’s not for the lazy writer. It’s an extreme sport, requiring extreme attention to detail and intense concentration.
  • It is not a venue for dumping your emotions, and it’s not merely a vignette. The best flash contains a subtlety and intricacy that reads like poetry.
  • Humor is wonderful in flash, but leave the gimmicks out. Flash is not about the gotcha moment or the aha ending.
  • You can’t cut corners just because it’s short.
  • Writing with an economy of words is hard work. Don’t be fooled by writers who make it look easy. Flash requires as much editing as longer works.

GD: Who are some of the best Kiwi writers of flash?  Can you provide links?

ME: At the top of my list are Frankie McMillan and James Norcliffe. As an Associate Editor for the forthcoming collection of international flash (W.W. Norton 2015), I’ve had the honor of reading an enormous number of talented flash writers from around the world – and was pleased to see two New Zealand writers in the final table of contents. Both have been involved in the National Flash Fiction Day campaign (McMillan as one of our 2014 judges and Norcliffe as a member of our central committee).

I like the way McMillan’s story “Truthful Lies” (selected for the Norton anthology) handles emotional depth with a sense of control and detachment (read it here).Norcliffe writes with breakneck speed and wit (and clever dialogue that hits you sideways) in colorful, delicious prose. “Kissing the Sky,” originally published in Sport, can be found here, and was later anthologized by Richard Peabody in Kiss the Sky: Fiction and Poetry Starring Jimi Hendrix.

Another Kiwi writer I admire for stories and poetry is Mary McCallum, the other judge of the 2014 NFFD competition (you can read her story “Dead Space” here). Other writers I should mention from this year’s competition are the top three winners – all of whom you can read in a special issue of Flash Frontier. I admit that I’m especially fond of the way Patricia Hanifin plays so cleverly with Charlie Brown themes in the second place story.

Flash has been on the rise in New Zealand, made accessible first by the anthologies assembled in the 1990s by writer/editor Graeme Lay. These books provide a good foundational introduction to the short short form in NZ writing, and include nationally recognized writers such as Kevin Ireland, Vincent O’Sullivan, Witi Ihimaera, Frank Sargeson and Patricia Grace, as well as many others. Many newcomers now play with the genre, some quite experimentally. Take Reuben Todd, for example, whose story “Miri” (long-listed in this year’s NFFD comp; scroll down the page and read it here) tickles me each time I read it.

I’m also a fan of Elizabeth Welsh’s writing. She can be found in the June Flash Special at Blue Five Notebook(which includes, coincidentally, Mary McCallum as well, plus a handful of US writers). Other NZ writers whose work has stood out recently at Flash Frontier and/or Blue Five Notebook include Nod Ghosh, Rebecca Simons, DR Jones, Kate Mahony, Janet Pates, Mike Crowl, Alex Reece-Abbott, Jane Swan, Raewyn Alexander, and Celine Gibson. There are many more – too many to name here. It’s a small country with plenty of writers packing a solid punch.

For excellent and current writers of flash, I recommend Flash Frontier (naturally), as it’s the only zine in NZ dedicated to the craft of writing extremely short prose. Some of our issues are focused entirely on Kiwi writers, like our scattered issue from April 2014, guest edited by James George, and dedicated to Auckland writer, Miles Hughes, who passed away in February. Then there are the international issues, such as June’s sugar issue and the forthcoming September falling issue, guest edited by Christopher Allen. In each edition, there’s a real diversity of writers tackling one theme – playing the game with a good deal of enthusiasm and discipline.

GD: How did you discover flash?  Can you give us links to one or two of your stories?

In 2010, I had been working on several longer projects and also travel articles written as a part of our sailing routes around the Pacific – and I wanted to shift focus in my discipline, to drill down to each word. Also, I wanted to push myself to write more creatively, to experiment beyond my comfort zone. I set up a challenge for myself: to write a story a week for a year, and to limit the word count to 250.

I shared this idea with high school pal (and present-day writing instructor) John Chapin, and he said – quite unsolicited: “I’m in.” We set up a website and called it 52|250: A Year of Flash (52 weeks, 250 words every week). And the rest followed: in a very short time, John and I found ourselves in the middle of a wonderful writing community, with nearly 200 people participating in the project. Soon Walter Bjorkman came on board and helped manage the website, which grew in complexity every week: more contributors, more reading, more editing – alongside our stories every single week.

That discipline – writing a story a week for a year – seemed to fit my life so well. This love I feel for small things – sometimes subtle, sometimes explosive – is an extension of my own reality. Seeing the world in my slow-travel way as we meander around the world on our sailboat (Momo has been our home for eleven years), taking life in small doses, glimpsing reality a day at a time: flash fiction fits.

Incidentally, the novel and the travel writing still happen, but flash is deeply embedded in my heart, and the things I’ve learned from focusing on flash have changed the way I write, read, and edit.

As for my own work, a story written for the 52|250 challenge and read on Radio New Zealand in conjunction with National Flash Fiction Day in 2012 is “Nothing Happens at Sea.” The sea figures rather centrally in my world. Another more recent one – originally longer, but tweaked into a 1000-word experiment and presently under consideration by an editor I greatly admire – is “Cornfield,” which is decidedly different in tone and pacing than my little sea story.

And yet… it’s an unlikely sea story, too, because, well, there’s Cape Horn right in the middle of that mess, and it’s the opening chapter of the series I wrote for the  2014: A Year in Stories project (a project where our paths cross, Gay!). The 2014 project has been a wonderful inspiration for me, along with other things in the works, because it has also offered a set of guidelines steering the work over the course of a year and unleashed larger things in my writing track. For me, in fact, 2014: A Year in Stories feels akin to 52|250: A Year of Flash – and I’m grateful for both.

____________

gay deganifor WCB choice 3Gay Degani has published fiction on-line and in print including her short collection, Pomegranate Stories. She is founder of EDF’s Flash Fiction Chronicles, a staff editor at Smokelong Quarterly, and blogs at Words in Place. She’s had three stories nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Annual Glass Woman Prize. Her novel, What Came Before, is live in serialized format at Every Day Novels. It’s also available from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

 

by Krystyna Fedosejevs

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What was it like for me to start writing flash fiction? Exciting because it was a challenge, something new to explore and learn about. Frightening. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Nor was I confident that I was capable to reach the goal of mastering it.

Flash fiction. I heard about the form in writers’ circles approximately four years ago. Didn’t give it much thought, put it aside. Decided to continue channelling my energy into poetry, short stories and creative nonfiction. Not that I was an excellent writer in any of those areas, for I was not. Rather, I felt I was in my comfort zone having had some success being published and winning contests. Starting something new back then was not a consideration.

In late March 2013, I stumbled upon a website dedicated to flash writing (Flash Fiction World). I became a member. The site was set up as a tutorial and exercise meeting place for writers. We posted our stories and engaged in constructive criticism of each other’s works. We could also submit stories for publication and if chosen by the editor, they were published. I was fortunate to partake in this educational, exhilarating experience. In autumn of 2013, I learnt that the site had closed down.

Also of benefit were the following sites for writing tips as well as lists of markets for one’s flash fiction: Flash Fiction Chronicles, Stories in your pocket: how to write flash fiction, Flash Fiction: What’s It All About, and Writing Flash Fiction.

How did I approach writing my first flash fiction? Naively. I look back and shudder at a few of my attempts. Imagine, I thought that a truncated traditional short story could be called flash fiction merely by downsizing the number of words! I learnt quickly to recognize the differences, primarily from the feedback I received from more knowledgeable writers. Also by reading other flash stories, especially by award-winning writers. Soon afterwards, with an energized zeal to improve, I produced stories with more favourable results, most of the time.

It’s not easy being a beginner no matter what field or interest one pursues. As writers we realize that we need to learn how to survive rejections or negative remarks. At times, I wondered if to go on making my writing available for public scrutiny or better to retreat and become a word-obsessed recluse. I chose to get my word out there. Let criticism bite me, depress me but then release me to become an even better writer. 

I have been writing flash fiction for more than a year now and realize I’m a long way from being looked upon as an excellent writer. However, I’ve made some headway.

Several of my ultra short works have been published. They can be found at:

Some of the sites I post at are:

Writing flash fiction is a challenge yet so much fun. Opportunities are endless. Six, twenty-five, fifty, one hundred word stories and variants and extensions of words, words, words …

There’s so much out there to discover, embrace and absorb. For one, I plan to look at magazine markets, an area I haven’t touched yet. More possibilities.

I’m definitely in flash fiction mode.

____________

Krystyna Fedosejevs writes poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction. One of her six word stories will be published in the Summer 2014 issue of From the Depths. A recent piece was published at 100 Word Stories. She delights neighbourhood cats with her singing in Alberta, Canada.

by Len Kuntz

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Even though a plethora of flash fiction exists today, I’ll admit to not having heard of the term until four years ago.

I was a little stunned by the discovery of this new-found form, the way you might be to all of a sudden learn that there’s an extra room in your house, a room filled with delicious treasures.

Browsing internet sites around 2010, I saw that talents such as Kim Chinquee, xTx, Kathy Fish and Meg Pokrass were turning out tight pieces of writing as short as 300 words—writing that was not poetry, though it often had a similar lyrical quality. Some of the pieces were even fully formed, containing a narrative arc and plot, while others sizzled instead, like Molotov cocktails left tossed in the air, leaving the reader to decipher whatever decimation might occur.

The sudden rise of flash fiction’s popularity is, in a way, akin to that of Twitter—both of them seemingly rising up out of the blue while quickly securing a place in our consciousness, should we choose to take an interest.

And much like Twitter—or Flash Chat for that matter—flash fiction is about brevity; about the ability to say something noteworthy or meaningful in a very confined space.

I don’t know if flash fiction’s appeal is, as many have said, a result of our shortening attention spans, but whatever the reasons, I’m happy to see how vital the form has become.

The allure of flash, for me, is that it mirrors many of the writing adages I’d been taught years ago:

  • start in the middle of the action;
  • make every word count;
  • hit the reader between the eyes;
  • murder your darlings;
  • deliver a unique, singular voice.

Along with these challenges, I love the notion of getting in and getting out, the idea of swiftly painting a picture that is clear enough to let a reader know what’s happening, yet one that also allows readers to fill in the blanks vis-à-vis their own imagination.

I’m far from an expert on the art form, yet I do think the best flash writing gives readers pause after they’ve finished a piece: it stops them from going onto the next because something shocking or wholly unexpected has just happened, or perhaps the writing was simply so taut and sonically rendered that there’s no other choice than to let it simmer, almost soul-like inside you.

Of course there are all types of flash fiction and just as many kinds of motivation for writing it.

I most like being able to take scraps of memory or biography, or maybe just a lovely-sounding line, wrap it in fraud, and then pepper gunpowder throughout the piece. The title of Kevin Samsell’s flash and story collection, “Creamy Bullets,” is a good description of the type of writing I hope to create: creamy bullets. Bullets that bite, while also having the tendency to simultaneously soothe.

While reading novels, we live with the characters for weeks and years, getting to know their idiosyncrasies and foibles. Novels transport us and often occur over great time spans. Reading a novel requires an investment. It demands patience and diligence.

Flash fiction is usually the opposite of all these things. Flash is a shotgun blast, or even a single piece of shotgun shrapnel plucked from within the greater blast. It’s immediate and jarring. The investment necessary is simply a few minutes.

We are lucky today, to see the proliferation of both styles of writing; having our cake and eating it, too.

To the novelists, I say, Bravo! Keep at it. We need you.

To the flash writers, I say, Keep dropping those bombs. Write on. We need you more than you might know.

____________

Len Kuntz is the author of The Dark Sunshine available from Connotation Press and at editor at the online literary magazine Metazen. You can also find him at lenkuntz.blogspot.com.

 

by John Towler

JC Towler

I’ve read a lot of flash as an editor at Every Day Fiction. (We have a tracking system that counts how many stories we’ve commented on, and I passed the 5000 mark during the second week of March.) It seemed to be a good time to come up with a “Top 10″ list of the most memorable pieces we’ve published in my four-year tenure. This list is based on my memory and opinion, and does not reflect any sort of editorial consensus of Camille, Carol, Joe or any of the other fine folks I work with.

These are all great stories from talented authors. I hope you’ll give them a chance if you haven’t experienced them already.

1. Cog Work Cat by Joyce Chng, published May 2010

The story blends poetry, fantasy, and love in a way that I don’t think has ever been eclipsed at EDF. Joyce has given us a couple of other very good stories, but this one was her best work.

2. Strikethrough by Matt Daly, published June 2012

A powerful piece about healing achieved in an unexpected manner. This is the only story Matt ever submitted to us, but he gave us a gem.

3. Saving Darth Vader by Kip, published May 2010

This story is one of the quirkiest roller-coaster rides you’ve ever been on. At one moment you are laughing out loud and the next nearly in tears for the feline protagonist. Kip gave us a number of great stories, but this one stands above them all.

4. The Destiny of Archer Deft by Douglas Campbell, published February 2010

Douglas is a regular contributor with an enviable near-perfect publication track record. It seemed everything he gave us was gold. But he went out on a limb with this piece and it is a laugh riot. Long live the Snooty Bird!

5. To Catch a Wolf by Warren Easley, published May 2012

Somebody brought up that May 16 was National Flash Fiction day and it just so happened we had the perfect story to celebrate the occasion. (We actually made it into a Flash Fiction Week at EDF and all the stories we published around that time were exceptional.)

6. Fire and Light by Sarah Crysl Akhtar, published July 2013

Sarah is EDF’s  Scheherazade. I don’t think there are many months that go by that do not feature one of her stories. She has a gift with words and a bottomless imagination and picking a favorite of hers was tough. This was not her highest-rated story from the readership, but it is the one that has stuck with me.

7. Speed Demon and Clockwork Dancer by J.R. Hume, published October 2013

The prose in this story is part of what makes it special, but one of the best anthropomorphic flash pieces I’ve read. J.R. is a long-time contributor to EDF. His Tears of an Android is another great read, but we picked that one before I started with the magazine, so it didn’t make this list.

8. Three Wishes by Cat Rambo, published August 2013

​We do not publish a lot of micro fiction at EDF. (Of the ​over 2,000 stories we’ve published, only around 30 have been 250 words or less.) I think Cat’s Three Wishes is the best of the bunch and it accomplishes the unusual feat of finding a twist on the well-worn three wishes theme that’ll moisten your eye.

9. The Widow’s Tale by J. Chris Lawrence, published October 2011

Chris has joined the EDF team as a slush reader for the time being, but I will look forward to the day he returns to the writing world so he can crank out more terrific pieces like this for us. (Well, hopefully for us.)

10. Idiot Robot by Shane Rhinewald, published July 2013

Comedy and science fiction seem to work well together on the big and little screen (Mork and Mindy, 3rd Rock, Futurama, etc.) but we have a tough time finding flash that pulls it off. Shane’s genre-blending piece finds the right balance and, like all good science fiction, speaks to issues beyond the words on the page.

If you are looking to have your story published by Every Day Fiction, you should first read our guidelines. It is embarrassingly apparent when people have not.

The key to publishing a story with us is to find that ideal mix of good writing, fresh ideas, and some sort of character development. We’ve had to say “no” to stories with knockout prose but which follow the “boy meets girl” trajectory with predictable outcomes. We’ve read pieces that are brilliant conceptually, but are delivered with a clumsy prose style that make them unsuitable. We love working with authors who don’t mind taking a bit of editorial direction and shaping their flash into something our magazine can publish.

____________

J.C. Towler is in the market for a gently-used Time Turner or Transmogrifier. He has been an editor at Every Day Fiction since 2010, but wears more hats than you could possibly be interested in knowing about.

 

by Sarah Crysl Akhtar

Consider this as counterpoint to Erin Entrada Kelly’s recent excellent post on following your heart in choosing what to write.  I agree with everything she says, but offer this caveat:  if you really don’t know what you’re writing about, do a little research first.

What’s the worst thing you can say to a writer?  “You’ve gone and made a fool of yourself.”

What’s almost as bad?  “Your ignorance/carelessness/obtuseness caused great pain to someone who read your work.”

Now, there’s no safe genre guaranteed to insulate you from anyone’s ire.  Even a simple children’s story may ignite an unexpected firestorm.  Someone, somewhere, is ready to take offense at something.

I’m on the side of publishing, and keeping a flak jacket handy.

Sometimes, though, an author jumps enthusiastically into unknown territory and ends up rightfully skewered.

That happened with a recently-published flash fiction piece.  It earned scorn (mine), outrage (not mine) and considerable bemusement from readers.  (To be fair, it earned high praise from some readers, too, and a few offered sympathy for the torrent of fury deluging a work of fiction.)

I suspect the piece was a well-meaning attempt to understand unspeakable horrors.  But it struck many readers as a clumsy and painfully ignorant example of imagining oneself in other people’s shoes.

I felt, and remarked, that a solemn story about descendants and relatives of Holocaust victims ended up making me think of a Mel Brooks movie.  Other commenters expressed rage and anguish at the mangling of facts and the perhaps inadvertent trivializing of monstrous horrors.

A very little bit of research–i.e. five minutes on Wikipedia–might have stopped the author before she could cause so much unnecessary suffering.  And I do say suffering, deliberately.  Recent history is personal history for people still living; it is a wound that perhaps may never heal.

I don’t believe in censorship; I believe free societies can survive without scars even the worst of what words can do, if those words are well-aired in daylight.  And there’s great scope in fiction for reimaginings and personal judgments of events and the actors propelling them.

But there’s no excuse for egregious and preventable errors of fact.

Perfect truths can indeed be captured by authors who have not and never possibly could have experienced what they’re writing about.  Masterful art is alchemy–transmuting facts and individual experiences into universal human realities.

Richard Hughes, one of my favorite authors, had never been a little girl or a young woman.  He’d never gone blind, either. Yet a scene he wrote, about the moment a young girl loses the remainder of her vision to a congenital disorder, has stayed with me for nearly forty years.  That moment of anguish–a teenager falling at last into unliftable darkness while surrounded by guests at a dinner party, one of whom mistakes her crying out as drunkenness–was Hughes’ transmuting life into art.

Another favorite of mine is DuBose Heyward, best known for the novel “Porgy,” and librettist for the opera based on it.  But I cherish him for “The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes.” Heyward had most certainly never been a rabbit, or the mother of two dozen long-eared children.  I’ve never been a rabbit either, but I can swear to his capturing a mother’s feelings perfectly.

So, yes, to second Erin again, write about anything you please.  But take a little reasonable care while you do it.

____________

Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s shtetl forebears gifted her with the genes impelling 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 365tomorrows, Every Day Fiction, Perihelion SF Magazine and Flash Fiction Online.)

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