GENRE


by Andreé Robinson-Neal

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

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

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

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

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

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

She had expected him to be highly supportive.

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

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

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

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

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

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Andree-New

Andreé Robinson-Neal got bit by the writing bug back in the late 1970s while watching Rod Serling and reading Ray Bradbury—both of whom are everyday inspirations; although she has worked in education for more than a quarter-century, she has never been cured of her penchant for speculative fiction. Find some of her flash fiction at starvingartist.com. She writes under the name AR Neal, who will hopefully one day be identified as a famous NaNoWriMo participant.

by Andreé Robinson-Neal

Road Kill CollectionThere is something about the term “roadkill” that catches the eye, particularly when it’s on the cover of a book. And when the poor animal in question happens to be a stuffed bunny, there is no doubt that what is contained between the front and back covers should be investigated.

Jon Sindell’s The Roadkill Collection does not disappoint—a turn of the last page leaves the reader wondering what hit them. He meanders across miles of emotion and causes sharp intakes of breath, bursts of laughter, and shakes of the head. For example, in “The Muffin Man,” Sindell gives us a glimpse of a girl’s experiences with homeless ministry and how an innocent gesture can cause the path to turn.

In Gregory’s tent, I lay on his shoulder. He smelled like liquid soap and earth. He laid his hand on my belly so gently, I could almost feel a baby in there. (“The Muffin Man”)

A parental nightmare of a different kind appears in “Victory Torch,” where the main character crashes (and burns) in the hallowed halls of the Ivy League.

Sindell conquers many subjects, from love to gardening to sports, and back again. One of the shorter pieces called “That’s Not Love?” takes the reader on a swift trip through the less sensual side of parenthood and thin-walled apartments. The angst of barely concealed disappointment and hatred rings through in “A Zinzinnati Red”, while the depth of a mother’s love is apparent in “Insidious.”

Who loves this country. You think I don’t? Think this purple heart don’t mean anything? That it don’t mean a thing that my name’s Schmidt, and some of the guys I shot coulda been Schmidt’s? … First one guy hits his fist in my cheek, then they all join in … I spit out a tooth, and out my blood pours. Commie red. (“A Zinzinnati Red”)

There is sharp wit in this book that leaves scars. In “One Clear Shot,” the reader is treated to graduation day and a mom who’s waited for just the right moment to get a little closer to even with her ex-husband. She delivers a verbal “mortal wound” that takes the soul of her victim in style.

The love of the game (baseball), nature, and the great writers of history all speak clearly though the stories presented in Roadkill. While this is Jon Sindell’s first flash fiction collection, it will hopefully not be his last.

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Andree-New

Andreé Robinson-Neal got bit by the writing bug back in the late 1970s while watching Rod Serling and reading Ray Bradbury—both of whom are everyday inspirations; although she has worked in education for more than a quarter-century, she has never been cured of her penchant for speculative fiction. Find some of her flash fiction at starvingartist.com. She writes under the name AR Neal, who will hopefully one day be identified as a famous NaNoWriMo participant.

by Gloria Garfunkel

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Lydia Davis is an exemplary and intellectual flash fiction writer. So why did she choose to translate Proust of all people, whose seven volume novel In Search of Lost Time, seems the opposite of flash fiction? Because I think a lot can be learned from his work to apply to flash fiction.

First of all, like me and a book of linked flashes I am writing, Proust struggled to decide if his book was memoir or novel. He felt he had tinkered enough with reality to call it a novel but he went back and forth because so much was based on memory, though distorted and deliberately recombined to express the essence of his meaning. That has been a major issue for me for some of my flash fiction that I submit to journals as fiction and they decide is nonfiction. Just because it sounds autobiographical doesn’t mean it is literarily so, and I think the writer should get to decide. Memoir is a sort of compromise, a little of this and a little of that, but not purely nonfiction or even creative nonfiction. I think it is in a class all itself but closer to fiction, which gives the writer more free reign to change reality. I like to call my work fiction simply to protect the identities of people I write about. But memoir can do that as well, since everyone knows memory distorts reality. Still, I think memoir is closer to fiction than to nonfiction.

Swann’s Way, the first volume, is Lydia Davis’ translation. Being set in childhood but told with the insight of an adult’s voice and perspective, the long meandering but structured sentences of sensual detail work well. If a story is told about childhood in the present, short sentences are the only option. Flash, like Proust, can easily flow back and forth, like poetry.

Proust did not pretend in any way to write chronologically. His fragments of memory were constantly shuffled around like pieces of a puzzle, like little shards of flash fiction looking for a home. He kept doing this in his revisions up to the last minute before publication. Like Proust, flash fiction plays with time, consciousness, and the levels of reality we experience. The only difference is that flash needs to be worked around a sense of tension to ground the story. Proust didn’t have to do that. He could take his time.

Proust tried to pack all the information of one particular thought in his long systemic meticulously crafted sentences. Flash fiction does that with one story. Lydia Davis, like Marcel Proust, is concerned with liminal states of consciousness, between waking and sleeping and that hypnogogic state of transition, as well as between versions of memory and reality. That is why Lydia Davis was such a perfect choice for this first volume of Proust’s memoir/novel.

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Gloria Garfunkel has a Ph.D. in Psychology and Social Relations from Harvard University and was a psychotherapist for thirty years. She has since started writing flash fiction and memoir and published over fifty stories. She is working on two collections.

by James Claffey

James Claffey2

Growing up in an Irish home, poetry was always in the air. An aunt recited, “Maisie, Maisie, give me your answer do,” and my mother crooned, “Up the airy mountain, / Down the rushy glen…” and at school it was Padraig Colum’s “The Drover,” and, “To Meath of the pastures, / From wet hills by the sea, / Through Leitrim and Longford, / Go my cattle and me…” Even now, decades later, working on my own books and stories; the musical language of home and childhood and poetry infiltrates everything I write.

My wife is a poet, a painter, a writer, and one of the most creative souls I’ve ever met. From her I discovered the secret to writing—an unerring ability to write with not a care at all for the thoughts of editors, or other gatekeepers. Her poetry astonished me when I first met her: “Upon searching for a body, she will find herself.” She showed me that words can be fractured things, awkwardly spliced and stitched together. Not that my own exposure to Hopkins’ sprung rhythm didn’t alert me to some fierce capsizing of language, words like hoven chunks of glacier floating in some frozen sea. Still, her bookshelves made mine look extraordinarily pedestrian.

Not any more. My shelves contain Ben Lerner, Andrei Codrescu, Marthe Reed, Kathy Wagner, Ariane Reines, Martha Rosler, Kate Eichorn, and Kenneth Goldsmith, amongst others. Now, I read madness on pages of gritty creative writing as the hummingbirds zip about the bush outside my office window. All these words from obscure and known names have allowed me to dispense with standard writing form in my flash fiction. Mostly, I write surreal pieces that are more prose poem than traditional narrative. I weave pieces of eight and found flicker feathers into words, tapestries of trapped moments from dog walks on nearby hills, or by the coastline with the Channel Islands in the mist.

How this poetic influence improves my flash fiction is unclear. I’m guessing the way poets chisel away the unnecessary words, always searching for the most precise and perfect turn of phrase, is influential when it comes to writing short fiction. I go over and over any new writing searching for repetitiveness, for over-use of certain phrases, for redundancies in the writing. Having read so much poetry, I am aware of the importance of shape and form to a piece of writing. Many of the flash fiction pieces I write fit into a certain form; some being one long sentence, unpunctuated, and others being prose bookended in a particular way by a turn of phrase, or a particular image. Reading poetry and seeing how some poets use the white space provides inspiration to me when I sit down to a new project and have a desire to create something fresh on the page. Even how the physical shape of the piece looks is influenced by my consumption of poetry. Though, when I’m asked to describe my writing, I steer clear of saying it’s poetry.

Of course, “You’re a poet,” my wife frequently says to me. I balk, though not so much anymore. In a way, my being Irish stops me from claiming my truth. Growing up in Dublin—around the corner, literally, from James Joyce’s birthplace, and up the road from George Russell’s house, where WB Yeats used to visit on occasion—it takes some temerity to claim I’m a writer. We are all storytellers, and some of us write those stories down, and even fewer of us get to publish those stories, and fewer still enter the lexicon as the aforementioned poets have, so I have a hard time putting labels on my writing, and on my writing self. And every time I look up from my writing desk I am confronted by a wonderful hand-made concertina-like poem by Ambar Past in Chiapas, MX. I find deep inspiration in the beauty of her poem, Dedicatorias, and seeing it, pushes me on to write deeper and deeper from the heart, to find the poetry in everyday life and insert it into my flash fiction.

So, when I sit down to write, the words and the rhythm and the musicality are important to me. I want to know there’s some sort of a “poetic” flow to what I write, even in my most traditional fiction. I find direction in the old, remembered words of Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn: “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard / Are sweeter…” My desire is that my writing contains some form of the unheard, an aspect that the reader can’t put a finger on, but that is there, an undercurrent of sorts, and that current is the one that harkens back to the poetry of childhood and my mother’s voice delivering poem after poem from memory.

I carried on that tradition with my daughter, Maisie, when she was in the womb. Each night I’d quote William Allingham’s The Fairies, to her, and even today, nearing her third birthday, I can recite the poem and her little voice joins in with the words she heard before her birth. Strange thing is, I’ve never recited the poem to her post-birth. And that’s probably why poetry is so important to me as a writer, in that it informs and colors every aspect of my life, whether it’s as a father, a teacher, or a writer.

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Writer James Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA. He is fiction editor at Literary Orphans, and the author of the short fiction collection, Blood a Cold Blue. His work is forthcoming in the W.W. Norton Anthology, Flash Fiction International.

 

 

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.

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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.

 

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