INSPIRATION


by Andreé Robinson-Neal

Andree-New

It’s time to dust off your holiday hats, scary masks, leaf project centerpieces, turkey decorations, and sleigh bells as Flash Fiction Chronicles moves into the last quarter of 2014! And what better way to start off our September in Review than with a holiday. Gay Degani began the month by sharing Kiwi Flash Fiction Day and an interview with its founder, Michelle Elvy. Michelle offers a poignant reminder for all of us: “Because life is short. And so is some of the best fiction.” What a great sentiment!

And in case you needed another reason to celebrate, Susan Tepper brought our own Gay Degani right back for UNCOV/rd. Be sure to read the interview, which will encourage you at those times when your story isn’t going according to plan. Gay also reminds us of the possibilities in our writing; one way to reflect on the possibilities is to “remember what came before” and we do that well here at FFC. Sarah Crysl Akhtar takes us back to check out some dazzling pieces from the EDF Archives. This month’s find was The Non-Opening Window by Simon Barker. The story was a tasty treat and a perfect comedic appetizer for the rest of the month.

September is not often identified as a month of holidays but before we had reached the midway point, we found ourselves knee-deep with a second: New Zealand National Flash Fiction Day Contest and its winners, Sarah Dunn, Tricia Hanifin, and Sue Kingham. They offer invaluable tips for those who plan to submit to writing contests and gave us a peek into their process for crafting a submission.

Speaking of submissions, Julie Duffy continued her exploration of genre and reminded us that romance matters (and sells, to the tune of $1bn!). For those who may try their hand at crafting a romantic tale, Julie offers tips from the Romance Writers of America, including a detailed description on sub-genres and audience.

If you don’t have time to write the next million-word prize-winning passion play, Christopher Allen shared why flash fiction writing is a perfect solution for time-strapped scribes. However, if you are time-strapped because of distraction, take a hint from Rohini Gupta, who reminded us of the things that can take our focus off the goal and what we can do to get back to work.

We rounded the corner into the last part of the month with RK Biswas, who took us on an imaginative tour of William Todd Seabrook’s The Imagination of Lewis Carroll. Like falling through the rabbit hole, this review will capture your imagination just as the chapbook captured the reviewer’s.

Sarah Crysl Akhtar provided a talisman that we each should tuck away when the dark clouds of doubt rear their ominous heads. In her discussion about believing in our own gifts, she reminds us to surprise ourselves, trust our instincts, and not be afraid of the eraser or backspace button. And when our instincts do not lead us to publication success, Jim Harrington gave us reasons to appreciate and learn from those rejection blues.

In case you have been held back by the rejection blues, or distraction, or doubt, there were some great flash fiction markets and resources to help you get back to the hard work and joy of writing. Aliza Greenblatt closed out the month with August’s EDF Top Author, Marisa Mangione, who reminded us to look for the golden egg, even in the mundane.

October is off to a great rustling start, so be sure to visit FFC for the latest interviews, markets, and tips.

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

 

by Aliza Greenblatt

Marisa Mangione

Marisa Mangione is a medical writer from New Providence, NJ. She writes about medicine and other weird, gross, and magical things at www.marisamangione.com/. Her piece, The Goose with Zero Down, was the top EDF story for August.

Aliza Greenblatt: So, I usually like to start off these interviews by asking the writers to tell us a bit about themselves. Why did you decide to start writing stories? Is there any particular type or genre that you favor?

Marisa Mangione: I write stories because I’ve always written or told stories, and I can’t imagine not doing it. I believe that children are natural storytellers, but as we get older, most people channel that creative energy in other directions. So maybe I write because I’m immature.

In general, I write young adult or middle grade stories because I like the immediacy and heightened emotions for that age range—everything is happening RIGHT NOW, and if it doesn’t happen now, it might never happen. Writing flash fiction lets me experiment with different genres and styles.

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

MM: I often start with an idea for one scene or a piece of dialogue. I try to write an outline for every piece. For longer stories, I like the 7-point story structure. For flash fiction, that’s sometimes too much, but any outline keeps me on track. Then I fill in any other dialogue or description that comes to mind before I start seriously writing from beginning to end. After that, I obsess about it for a couple months, send it to my writers’ group, rewrite everything, lose the draft for a while, find it again, then decide that it’s good enough to submit.

AG: In your biography included with the story on EDF, you say you write “about medicine and other weird, gross, and magical things.” Can you elaborate on those weird, gross, and magical topics?

MM: I’m a medical writer by trade, so I filter a lot of my daily experiences through that lens. I’m always interested in experiences that might change someone’s body or mind, both in my professional life and when writing fiction. So many things that happen in our bodies are complete mysteries to us, but our bodies are such a strong source of pride and anxiety. Plus, everyone has a body, so the line between an engrossing and mundane story is very thin.

For example, I just had a baby, so the substances going into and coming out of this little body are suddenly very important to me. It’s a cliche of the kind of boring conversation that new parents have, and I recognize that it’s completely ridiculous to have this much anxiety about someone else’s poop, but I think others can relate to the anxiety, and laugh along with me when he pees on the pediatrician or has a blowout on my lap. Finding the humor and magic in these mundane experiences is very appealing to me.

AG: There was a bit of a debate in the comment section about the voice in this story and the use of slang; so naturally I have to ask. Why did you choose to use words like “toosh” and “mooks?” Did you realize you were taking a bit of a gamble by doing so?

MM: I honestly expected this story to be much lower rated than it was because I’ve always gotten mixed reactions to the voice. I was thrilled that so many readers connected with this little story, but I was expecting a good number of readers to be turned off by the slang, or just not find the story all that funny or relatable.

If you’re going to retell a well-known story, you need a new angle, and the voice, including the slang, was necessary to providing that angle. If someone is going to tell a story, they’ll use their everyday language, including slang. That was important to me in conveying the stress she felt and the humor of the moment.

AG: Anyone who’s ever frequented a grocery story has seen these two characters at some point—that is, the bored kid and the parent who just wants to get through their shopping list alive. But why did she retell the story of the golden goose? Did she realize that the story was soothing herself as well as her child?

MM: I like that observation. I’ve never thought about her in quite those terms. I think of the mother as being at the end of her rope. As long as she’s in motion, she feels like she’s going to make it, so in that sense, telling the story is soothing to her. Plus, I think it’s natural to hope that if you can explain your reasoning the child will understand you and stop whatever they’re doing, but that doesn’t really work.

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?

MM: I just had a baby in September, so I’m currently working on staying awake! Having a story published was one of my goals for my pregnancy, knowing that I might not get much writing or submissions in for the rest of the year. I’m hoping to get back into a routine soon and keep writing!

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

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Aliza profile-pic-2

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 Sarah Crysl Akhtar

Sarah AkhtarFor more than half my life, I believed myself constricted by a variant of the “those who can’t, teach” curse.

I’ve always been what people call “a good writer.”  I did well on essay exams even when I hardly knew what I was writing about, because I wrote so persuasively.  I was the perfect administrative assistant/executive secretary, turning other people’s less-than-sterling writing into correspondence and documents they could be proud of.  I edited manuscripts and created in-house newsletters, and people never stopped telling me what a great writer I was.

Badly-written books made me nuts; I’d mentally edit as I went along.

But I began to feel doomed; I had all the mechanical skills, but where was the fire?

I’d been writing poetry since the sixth grade.  In my thirties I participated in a weekend poetry seminar taught by an award-winning poet and respected professor at Queens College CUNY.  We distributed anonymous copies of our work within the group; I overheard several people discussing someone’s poems with rueful awe.  Turned out they were mine.  And the instructor told me my work was of professional quality.

But I can only write good poetry when ravaged by black despair.  Four years later I had my son, and I permanently renounced the self-indulgent beguilements of the dark side.

So I turned to prose.  And what terrified me most–after the need for coming up with a plot?

Dialogue.  I was convinced (a little light-gray despair here) I’d never be able to write realistic and believable dialogue.

It is, to me, miraculous that I now express not only my own voice, in nonfiction, but the voices of many characters through flash, and that readers respond to those voices with pleasure.

How did this happen?  I’m not sure.  Somehow, I learned to trust my own instincts; to feel when I’d caught the right rhythm, and to stay with it; to recognize when I hadn’t, and to start over.

I learned not to force a story.  I learned that even when expressing the thoughts and voices of male characters, or women in very different circumstances than anything I might have experienced, I had to be truthful to myself.  Otherwise the story just wouldn’t fly.

I once tried to write about a woman found by the now-adult daughter she’d given away.  I really, really wanted to write that story.  But I just couldn’t believe in my protagonist.  It was impossible for me to get inside her head, and God knows I tried.

Not sure what it says about me–that I have no trouble at all seeing myself inside characters who kill without guilt, but I can’t find any way to write about a mother giving away her child.

Perhaps the one urgent requirement of writing is to surprise yourself, and then to not let go of that moment of astonished revelation–to put it, somehow, in everything you create.

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Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s shtetl forebears gifted her with the genes that impel her to make much from little. So of course she writes flash fiction, cultivates orchards on her windowsill and bakes fabulous shortbread. Her son gives her what’s immeasurable–the best of all possible worlds. Less miraculous fruit of her labors has appeared on Every Day Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, 365tomorrows and Perihelion SF Magazine.

 

by Christopher Allen

Christopher Allen

Due to some recent life changes, I’ve had to limit my writing and editing time drastically; stories, though—characters’ situations, lines of dialogue, phrases and titles—keep flipping me around at night. I guess the simplest answer to the question “Why do I write?” is that the ideas keep coming. Brilliant or bollocks, they keep coming.

But why do I write flash fiction? It started at university—or it tried to. I was making up 16 hours of undergraduate English in a summer so that I could start a graduate program in English lit (I’d majored in music and music business as an undergrad). On one of my papers, my Victorian lit professor wrote that my essays were like tiny stories—I think she might have used the word “gems,” but my self-congratulatory memory might have sneaked this in. The papers were those 500-word ditties we’re all familiar with. Later in the semester when I told her I was writing a screenplay, her reaction was “You should write short stories.” This was 1992. I published one short story in the university’s journal in 1993, but between then and 2007 I wrote two screenplays and three novels—never another short story. Call me hard-headed. Go ahead.

Maybe I was resisting “tiny” and “short” and “ditty”—and not only because I’m relatively tiny myself. Maybe I was under the impression that “tiny” meant unimportant, that what I had to say wouldn’t fit into “tiny.” Maybe I’d read way too much Henry James and George Eliot. You are, after all, what you read. (And if this is true, I’m Bill Bryson and Virginia Woolf’s unlikely lovechild.) My love for other people’s words is another reason I write. And edit.

The often condensed syntax of sudden fiction represents a uniquely contemporary voice. Trimming syntax urges the eye along so that the reader experiences text almost in a single moment. Of course this is impossible, but it seems to be the goal. Technology keeps changing the way we read. It’d be dishonest to say some (many?) contemporary writers are not reacting to current tastes and reading formats when choosing to write shorter texts. In Internet writing workshops and communities you’re much more likely to get feedback on a 500-word piece than a whopping 5000-worder. Just have a look at a few litzines’ word-limit guidelines. Scrolling sucks, and it definitely contributes to carpal tunnel syndrome. Faster online fiction is healthier fiction.

As fast as it is to read, though, sudden fiction can take a long time to write (I don’t write sudden fiction because I like to write fast). It’s rare that I’ll sit down at my computer and whip out a 700-word story that I love at first read. It happens, but I usually come back to the story after a week with ideas that rip it apart. Then more ideas rip it apart two weeks later. And so on. Each ripping strips unnecessary bits, refines character—and sometimes completely screws the story to hell and back; yet more often the story evolves, becomes bigger and rounder as it grows smaller, tighter. Tight is, after all, the new big.

Each time I finish one of these tiny stories, I have to look at what I’ve created and ask myself. . .Is this whole? Is the reader’s eye urged along? Will the reader have the same visceral reaction to this moment as I do? Will these characters, whose visit was so brief, stay with the reader beyond the reading? Or is this just a ditty?

I hope other writers of sudden fiction will agree with me that we write sudden fiction because we have so many different moments of being to share: those particularly deep moments my mother Virginia Woolf talked about. In this way, we’re more like painters, songwriters and chefs than novelists.

You know, it might be as simple as feeling satisfaction in the completion of all those ideas that keep coming, the opportunity of plumbing, shaping and completing not just a few pieces of art but many—that’s why I write flash fiction.

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Christopher Allen is grateful to have his sudden fiction in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly’s Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine and many other great places. His book reviews have been featured at [PANK], Word Riot, The Lit Pub and Necessary Fiction, among others. He’s won some awards and come close to winning others. He keeps trying, and so should you. He lives in Germany and blogs at www.imustbeoff.com about his slight travel obsession.

 

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.”

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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.

 

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