INSPIRATION


by Joanne Jagoda

Joanne Jagoda

I suppose I owe a debt of gratitude to my young bitchy boss with her ice pick style of management. When I finally had enough of her poking away at me, I decided it was time to retire at the age of 59. So there I was, at a new juncture of my life, a youngish senior, trying to figure out what the hell to do with the rest of my life. I found several volunteer jobs right away, including teaching English as a second language to Chinese seniors and working with children in a poor school in East Oakland. I needed something else. I knew I could only exercise, go out to lunch, and shop for so many days until I’d be bored. I needed to find something to keep me feeling vital and alive. What would open the magic gate to lead me on a journey I had not ventured on before?

I had always liked to write, and as a history major and English minor had done endless term papers, but I never attempted any serious creative writing. I was fortunate, or maybe a better word is the Yiddish expression, that it was beshert or destined for me to find a daytime writing class, Lakeshore Writers in Oakland, which had a spot in the spring class. It was a writing workshop using the Amherst method. The class met Thursday mornings for two and a half hours. I was willing to give it a try. One class…it couldn’t hurt. If I hated it I just wouldn’t continue, lose the deposit, whatever.

I got to the class early that Thursday, chatted with the facilitator as the other women rolled in. We eyed each other. I was the oldest. What the hell am I doing here? I sat down on the mismatched chairs, clutching my lemon ginger tea listening to the instructions. We would write on three prompts during the class time, read our work out loud and give positive feedback to each other. We were to treat everything we heard as fiction. My first prompt, I still remember it … “write about hair.” Oh shit, I’ve got nothing to say. I take a breath, gulp my tea, stare at my blank yellow legal pad. Maybe I could write something about my daughter’s mane of wild curly hair which has always been a source of drama for her. It had a life of its own, and I had my story.

And that one class was enough. I was hooked. Who would have ever believed that I had words, and sentences, and images and memories waiting to burst forth out of me. It was as if I had new glasses on and could see for the first time. I started to look at things differently. I started to hear snippets of conversations everywhere which I wanted to incorporate in my work. I found colorful characters lurking in the supermarket checkout line, on the BART train, in the jury pool when I had jury duty. I went back to my childhood in my head, remembering the poppies Mrs. Mialocq used to give me over the fence and the neighbors down the street who had a drunken brawl and my tap dancing class. I wrote fiction, nonfiction, and found I had a gift to write poetry.

I had discovered a new world like some intrepid explorer stumbling upon the universe of literary magazines, online submissions and contests, and a whole new vocabulary of “simultaneous submissions” and “flash fiction.” I started to submit and was in a writing frenzy. I was like an addict hooked on a drug which gave me a fulfilling high. In the beginning, I had some surprising successes even placing in the Writer’s Digest contest with an honorable mention. I didn’t realize that was a pretty big deal. There were other first place and second place wins, and it was a thrill seeing my work published. Then came the Rejections…there have been plenty of those sometimes arriving on a half sheet of paper. I mean really, couldn’t they at least send it on a whole sheet?

Now five years later I am still on this writing journey, and there are days when it is not easy. The most difficult challenge is making writing part of my daily routine. This requires a steely resolve to make time to write no matter how busy I am and treating my writing as a job. It is easy to put it aside when life gets too full. I still struggle in believing in myself. There are days when I’m a “writer” not a WRITER. One of the nicest things that happened to me early on was when a friend who encouraged me tremendously held a “Salon” for me to read some of my work at a tea. It was a thrill to share my writings with a rapt and appreciative audience.

I have been fortunate to become involved with the website, Pure Slush, and have written a number of pieces, which have been published by editor Matt Potter, who lives in Adelaide, Australia. I am one of the thirty-one writers in his ambitious 2014 project where a monthly anthology will be published for the twelve months of 2014. Each writer takes a different day. Mine is the thirtieth of the month, and I wrote a mystery. It has been amazing to become part of a group of writers from all over the world. A reading is in the works for November in New York City, and I’m thinking of attending to read one of my chapters. Maybe then I will finally consider myself a WRITER and not just a “writer.”

____________

Since retiring in 2009, it took one inspiring writing workshop to launch Joanne Jagoda of Oakland California on a long-postponed creative writing journey. Since discovering her passion for writing, she has been working on short stories, poetry and nonfiction. Her work has been published widely online and in print magazines and anthologies including Pure Slush 2014; 52/250, a Year of Flash; Persimmon Tree Literary Magazine; Women’s Memoir-Seasons of Our Lives, Summer; and Still Crazy. Joanne was the poet of the month for the J, a Jewish news weekly. She continues taking writing workshops and classes in the Bay Area, enjoys tap dancing and Zumba, traveling with her husband and visiting her four grandchildren, who call her Savta.

 

by Aliza Greenblatt

Jessi Cole Jackson

Jessi Cole Jackson lives and works in the prettiest part of New Jersey, though she’s not from there. By day she builds costumes for a Tony Award-winning theatre. By night she writes stories, questionable poetry and lots of abandoned outlines. She’s currently up to her elbows designing costumes for a children’s theatre camp and writing an MG novel. When she’s not working she enjoys cooking, reading, and exploring local farms. You can read more about her sometimes exciting (but mostly just normal) life at jessicolejackson.com. Her story, Remnants of a Quilter’s Memory, was EDF’s highest-rated story for June.

Aliza Greenblatt: According to your blog, you are mostly a science fiction/fantasy writer for middle grade readers. What draws you to speculative fiction? When did you first decide to write stories? For you, what is the appeal of flash fiction?

Jessi Cole Jackson: I love the juxtaposition of “other” and “same” in speculative fiction. As a reader, I can experience whole worlds outside of who or where I am (or could ever be). As a writer, I can explore class, religion, nationality, gender, race, illness without getting tied up in contemporary politics. And I can make the exploration fun.

I first started writing in school, but gave it up in college, because I didn’t think it was practical…instead I went into professional theatre—ha! I started writing stories again seriously in the winter of 2013.

Flash fiction gives me a chance to explore. I can try new styles, new techniques, non-traditional narratives without worrying that I’ll “waste” too much time on a draft. And it gives me a chance to practice my craft in small bursts.

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

JCJ: Usually stories come to me as ideas or situations, so the first thing I struggle with is plot—what’s the beginning? What’s the end? What happens in between that isn’t too expected, but still fits the characters and their lives? I outline it all in the broadest of strokes.

Then I often start writing longhand—pen to paper. I like how visceral and visual it is. Plus, it gives me time to think. Writing everything out takes time. Sometimes, I’ll finish the story in my notebook and then edit it while transferring it to Word or Google Drive or Scrivener. Other times, I’ll get frustrated with the slow going of writing, and I’ll switch to the computer to finish the initial draft.

I’m not disciplined about when I write, though thoughts flow easier for me in the early mornings when the world is still not quite awake.

AG: When I first read this, I was smiling because I know in your day job you are a costumer and spend a lot of time working with different fabrics. And I couldn’t help wondering—do you have bits of cloth from costumes lying around? Do you ever re-purpose them?

JCJ: During a show at work there are often bits of costumes everywhere! But those don’t ever come home with me—they get bundled up with the show in case there is a tear or hole that needs repaired.

But I do have lots of fabrics from personal projects through the years. So far, I’ve only slipped them into a few baby quilts for friends—a bit from an old apron, a strip from a favorite shirt. Quilts are the best places for those well-loved fabrics to land. If only they weren’t so time-consuming!

AG: Using remnants from her own life not only helped Louise remember but made sure the people she loved didn’t forget. But as I read, I wondered, did Louise know that her memory was failing her? Did she sew as much for herself as for others, to hold onto those old threads and memories for just a little longer?

JCJ: I think Louise knew something was wrong, but wasn’t entirely sure what it was. I think she was angry. More than that though, I think she was frightened. Especially as she got older and lost both the ability to create and the enjoyment in her art.

As with all artists, I think Louise quilted as much for herself as for her “audience.” Fabric was her medium. The quilts were a tangible way to pass on what was most meaningful to her, since she couldn’t hang onto them herself.

AG: I liked the use of repetition in this story. It emphasized not only what Louise recalled, but what she needed to remember. But the tragedy of the story was she remembered the repetition, but not its meaning. Was it tricky balancing the repetition and suspense in the piece? What were some of the challenges in writing such a short story?

JCJ: Thank you! I think Remnants’ super-short length is necessary for both the suspense and the repetition to work. If it were much longer, the poetry of it would quickly become a formula and it would start to grate on the reader…or at least on me!

When I originally submitted this to EDF it was only 300 words. It didn’t quite work at that length—it was more of a vignette than an actual story, which is a common problem for me. But the editors must’ve seen something in it, because they asked for a rewrite. Taking into account their feedback, I added the scenes where Louise, Margreet and Ruthie interact. These gave the quilting sections more of a framework and doubled the length. It’s still not the most traditional narrative, but I think it’s a more cohesive story.

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

JCJ: I’m currently working on expanding a few flash stories that don’t quite work (that whole plot thing!). I’m also (very patiently) waiting for feedback from beta readers on a draft of a middle grade novel based on my first ever published story, The Rum Cake Runner, available over at Crossed Genres Magazine.

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

JCJ: Thank you.

__________________

Aliza Greenblatt

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 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 Rohini Gupta

A previous version of this post appeared on Rohini’s blog.

Rohini Gupta

A friend asked a question: Why do you write?

I thought about it and I had no answer. Why do I write?  I have been writing all my life—but why?

It’s rarely easy. Writing itself is an effort of will, usually a balancing act, caught in the cracks between work and family commitments. You must take whatever moments you can, steal time to write, cutting out other pleasures in a desperate and sometimes secret attempt to squeeze a little more writing time from an almost empty tube.

You might drift into many professions because it just happened that the opportunity presented itself but not this one. Writing is a treadmill—if you are not running desperately in place to keep up you will get thrown right off it.

Money is not the reason either. It is not a profession which leads quickly to an obese bank account. Sometimes, as in poetry, it leads to no bank account at all. Poetry is notorious for it—poetry and money just don’t live in the same town.

Does that ever stop poets from writing? Of course not.

So what is it? Success?

Very few writers achieve success. In the days of traditional publishing, many writers never got published. In today’s age of self-publishing you can self-publish and then just disappear in the flood of other books.

A handful achieve fame and fortune. But that has never stopped anyone from writing.

So what is it? What keeps you going, year after year, alone, doubting yourself, struggling with the knives and daggers of rejection, wounded over and over and yet picking yourself up from the gutter again and again, reinventing yourself when all doors seem to be shut, losing yourself in another story while the old ones moulder unread.

It’s a minor miracle that anyone lasts in this field—but some do.

You grow two skins. One is tender, soft and sweet, with the poet’s fingertip sensitivity and the openness to the flow of words.

The other is tougher than rhinoceros hide—you need that when the rejections begin. Make no mistake, you will always need the rhinoceros hide—even success cannot insulate you.

So why go through all that and write?

Why?

You do not write for the externals, for the gains. It is something internal. The act of writing itself.

You don’t write for readers. Your readers are usually your writing friends and writing group members. Will you have millions of fans one day? You can hope but you cannot be sure. Even successful writers are not sure.

All books are not equal, even by the same writer. Writers say that a book from which they expected great success flopped and another, written in a spare thoughtless moment, somehow caught the reader’s imagination. Readers may love you or ignore you, but will that stop you writing?

So why do you write?

You write to write.

Something magical happens when you write and especially when you write poetry or fiction. You connect to the creative part of you, what you might call the Muse.

It opens a universe. It takes you out of yourself. It fills you with magic quite unknown in this prosaic, unimaginative world. For that magnificence what will you not do?  Everything else is dwarfed by those starry moments.

So perhaps, that is the answer to why you write.

You write for companionship—your own.

You write to meet yourself at the deepest and most profound level. The ancients called it ‘yoga’—union with yourself.

You write because without words to express it, the world is brittle and prickly and almost unlivable.

You write to survive and you write to become.

Most of all, you write because it gives you wings.

____________

Rohini Gupta is a writer living by the sea in Mumbai with a houseful of dogs and cats while working on short stories, poetry and a book.

 

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.

 

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