life experience


by Carly Berg

This article first appeared at The Writer’s Forum (9/2013).

Coming up with an author bio can seem overwhelming. But really, it’s easy, and soon becomes second nature.

I include my author bio with each submission unless they say not to. I mention that because sometimes publications don’t say everything in their guidelines.

I’ve never heard of the bio being a deciding factor in a story being accepted or not. So just getting a serviceable one down is good enough.

A bio is about two to five sentences and gives the reader a peek into your life. Why? Well, because people are nosy. I enjoy reading a bit about the author along with the story. Don’t you?

Please don’t think you won’t have enough to say. There’s always enough to say. Also, you don’t have to give out any information you don’t feel like giving out. If you don’t want the world to know it would be your first published story, don’t mention it. If you use a pseudonym and worry that giving too many details will ‘out’ you, then don’t. You need a bio you’re comfortable with.

Some common things to include are: where you live, what your education or job is, and who you live with, including pets.

You can also include what your interests are, especially if they relate to the story. Or, any tidbits that relate to the story.  If you have any publishing credits, about three can easily be added, as can, ‘this is his first published story.’ If you’ve won a contest, belong to a writer group, or have taken a writing course, that works, too. You can include a link to your writer site or blog, if you have one (if you don’t have one yet, don’t worry).

A few tips:

* The bio is always written in third person. Write something like ‘Here is my bio,’ in the cover letter, then insert your bio.

* Some publications have serious bios alongside silly ones. Others have a definite preference. If possible, look at the publication. If the other bios list things like education, career, accomplishments, publications, do the same. If you don’t have many, that’s okay. Just don’t pull out your funniest lines, like, ‘Carly Berg likes to beg the neighbors for sandwiches.’ Or, ‘Carly Berg is a gigantic third-grader.’

* If the bios for that publication tend toward crazy fun, don’t be stuffy, right? If you can’t check them out, stick to one that is more middle of the road.

* I like to include something in my bio that goes along with whatever I’ve submitted. Sometimes it’s silly. Other times it’s something about the impetus for writing the story or other fact of interest. However, first I check the publication to see where the bios are listed. If they’re listed with the story, great. But, if the bios are in the back of the volume or on a separate part of the website, chances are it is going to look strange to say, ‘Her friend Jackie is still spoiled.’ That would make sense in a bio placed with the story about my friend Jackie. Put elsewhere, however, it doesn’t make any sense. If I can’t check the publication to see where the bios are located, I avoid mentioning anything that is specific to the story.

*The best way to get bio ideas is to read other bios.

*Don’t make it too long. It tends to annoy editors.

* Don’t brag. Listing a few qualifications is great. Claiming that you plan to write the next best seller isn’t. Neither is stating that you are the toughest cat on the south side. Well, you get the idea.

* Don’t overshare or put yourself down. It’s kind of cringey to read. Making fun of yourself in a funny way with the silly bios is okay though. Mostly.

* Don’t say that you’ve been ‘writing since you were six.’ This comes across as empty bragging. It suggests you consider yourself to have been quite the child genius. Alternately, it looks like you believe childs’ play equates to professional level storytelling. We’ve all been writing since we were six. They made us do it in school. Come on.

* Vary your bio sentences. The first sentence usually starts with your name or pen name. Don’t begin the other sentences with the same pronoun. In other words:

This:

  …‘She lives with her husband. Her work has been published in Stupefying Stories.’

 Not this:

      …‘She lives with her husband. She has a story published in Stupefying Stories.’

It’s not a huge deal, but beginning both sentences with the same pronoun sounds a bit clunky.

Here are a few sample bios.

All-purpose, basic bios

Carly Berg lives in Texas with her husband, son and two cats. Her best story ideas come to her while washing the dishes.

or

Carly Berg is grateful to get to stay home and write. Her degree is in English. She is working on a book of stories.

Now, those may not make anyone swoon. But they’ll do.

With some progress, you’ll have more to say.

All-purpose, more advanced bios

Carly Berg lives with four males, two of whom are cats. Her stories appear in several dozen journals and anthologies, including PANK, Word Riot, and Bartleby Snopes. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize as well. Here’s her website: http://carlyberg.weebly.com/

Later, or now, if you’re up for it, you can jazz it up.

Bios having to do with the particular story

Carly Berg is a heart-shaped box with a couple of chocolates gone. She is a member of Absolute Write writer’s forum. This is her first published story. (For a he-done-me-wrong story).

Carly Berg lives near Houston. She’s had a story accepted by a publication beginning with every letter of the alphabet. This story came to her when they bulldozed the woods behind her house, and wild animals roamed through the neighborhood.

     …she always minds her mother (in a story about one who did not).

    …is a firm believer in coming in out of the rain (in a story about one who did not).

    …she is always properly attired when she goes out (in a story about one who was not).

Fun bios

Carly Berg lives with a sweet baboo, an Easter peep, and a visiting lightning bolt who wants you to know he’s an adult and a guest. Her stories appear in some fine places. And  some middling to low places, too…

    Carly Berg is a decorative couch pillow who doesn’t want to be judged….

    Carly Berg gets her three hots and a cot near Galveston…

    … She wonders if a fruitbat bounced off her head or if she just imagined it.

If you get stuck, use the suggestions above to jot one down, and move on to the next thing.

Carly Berg is done talking about bios.

____________

Carly Berg‘s work has been accepted by publications beginning with every letter of the alphabet except for “K,” the absence of which keeps her up at night. “The Care and Feeding of Non-Writers” is from her book in progress, The 100 Credits Club. She can be found at http://carlyberg.weebly.com/.

 

by Walt Giersbach

J.K. Rowling caused a ruckus when Harry Potter’s creator published The Cuckoo’s Calling under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith. For being “outed” by her own solicitors, she successfully sued. Not every writer is so secretive about his or her pen name. Everyone knew Mark Twain was really that guy in the white suit, Samuel Clemens. Lewis Carroll was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s essence. And, Ann Landers and Dear Abby aren’t one person, but many after 50 years.

Still, there may come a time when you need to consider an alias to hide your real persona. The excellent editor of my story collections, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, at Wild Child Publishing has adopted several to publish. One for writing to men’s magazines, another when her ex was suing for divorce, and a third for her titillating romances. “Each pen name has its own personality,” she states. She was the one who advised me to take a pen name if it solves a problem and to hell with the critics.

Another friend uses two initials preceding her surname because of rude comments from friends over the several books she’s published. Fans of J.B. DiNizo won’t be too surprised to learn the woman behind the name is Alice DiNizo. Others may find a lot of explaining is needed when their book is read by their mother. Taking on a pen name can raise as many issues as it resolves.

Should you adopt a pen name? You’re surely aware that some fiction sells better if written by a woman — romance, for example. Or a man, if the subject is dark and violent. Business books generally seem to sell better if written from a male POV. The gender issue relating to who gets published and reviewed is a contentious concern, as noted by The Guardian this summer; males far overshadow females in the U.K.

The subject matter may strongly dictate a pseudonym, such as erotic romance. If you’re a published writer of serious material, attaching your name to such “bodice-rippers” can cause negative spillover, reduce your literary stature, challenge reputation, and decrease enjoyment of the reading experience.

There’s another significant reason to use a pen name if the writer is of the opposite gender to his/her main character. Readers can easily be confused when starting a piece of fiction, becoming misled by the author’s byline, and discover the narrator is of the opposite sex. A sense of trust — even Coleridge’s “suspension of disbelief” — is broken. The reader becomes distracted by the conflict of an author taking on the persona of the opposite sex, detracting from the quality of whatever he/she has written.

A host of other questions need to be addressed — and you’ll probably wrestle with them — before you step into another name. Is using a pen name liberating? (Only you can answer that.) Should you let people know you’re using a pen name? (If you do, why bother with a pen name?) What if people are upset that you’re using a pen name? (Some people will always be upset.) Does using a pen name mean you have multiple-personality disorder? (No, far from it.) Does using a pen name constitute a breach of trust? (Look at your value system and decide if you’re setting expectations that might be violated.) Is it hard to do business using a pen name? (No, unless you feel conflicted as a man trying to sell your book as “Gloria L’Amour” at a library reading.) Is using a pen name legal? (I’m not a lawyer, but most publishers insist on knowing your real name in accepting a work.)

Finally, you can put the whole matter to rest. Don’t use a pen name if you’re not comfortable doing so. And, if you’re going to tell the world your secret identity, why bother?

In the interest of full disclosure, let me add that I’ve published flash under a pen name. Why? My narrator is of the opposite gender, it’s stylistically experimental work, and it doesn’t fit into the body of writing I’m concentrating on. Sorry, I can’t tell you the byline I use.

For further discussion, go to the Men with Pens blog by James Chartrand at http://menwithpens.ca/pen-name-pseudonym/ and an article by Howard G. Zaharoff in Writer’s Digest –http://www.mbbp.com/resources/iptech/pseudonyms.html.

___________________

Walt Giersbach’s fiction has appeared in Bewildering Stories, Big Pulp, Corner Club Press, Every Day Fiction, Gumshoe Review, OG Short Fiction, Over My Dead Body, Pif Magazine, Pill Hill Press, Pulp Modern, r.kv.r.y, Short Fiction World, The World of Myth, and a dozen other publications. He also writes on military history and social phenomena. Two volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, are available at Barnes & Noble and other online booksellers. He has been the director of communications for Fortune 500 companies, publicized the Connecticut Film Festival, managed publicity and programs for Western Connecticut State University’s Haas Library, and moderates a writing group in New Jersey.

by Susan Tepper

Susan Tepper: Do you feel yourself part of the film’s story, or its essence, as you write the poem about a particular film?

rasnake

Sam Rasnake: I’m not certain about this, Susan, but the best explanation I have is I feel as if I’m seeing the film from inside as if I were the film. Not a character in the film – not a place – not the story.  I’m not inside the house – I am the house.

ST: Method actors work this way. They become the character, and in some cases that means an animal. So, what you are saying regarding your poetry writing technique doesn’t surprise me.

SR: To write about a film I have to connect with it in some way –  the acting, directing, cinematography.  I have to be moved to write.  Something must click.  Something in the film nudges me – lets me know I’m going to write – let’s me know I need to write.  I don’t choose the film.  The film chooses me.  That’s my philosophy with regards to poetry as well, and it comes to me via Stanley Kunitz.  The poet doesn’t choose the poem – the poem chooses the poet.

cinemaverite

ST: Kunitz was a remarkable poet.  I personally believe that all art chooses its host.  Does your new book Cinéma Verité complete the film aspect of your writing?  At least for the time being?

SR: Some of my favorite films – Persona, The Decalogue, 2001 – I’ve yet to write about.  Maybe I will one day.  Looking over the poems included in Cinéma Vérité, I can see – now – some sort of connection with themes, stories, character types, but I know it wasn’t a conscious choice.  I wasn’t considering that element at the time.  I don’t set out to write a particular type of poem – but I do know when I’m going to write.

ST: You know when you are going to write.  Fascinating. As are these lines from your poem MacGuffin inspired by a film I also love The 39 Steps. You wrote:

“…each one a gift from an uneasy hand, from fingers / too wrenched with letting go.  And by the way, / isn’t it remarkable how a little sex sells— just / the thought of what could be might be enough…”

SR: In retrospect – I do feel as if I’m part of the film story – yes – as if I am, somehow, an extension of the story.  But, this is after the poem is finished.  I also realize this view contradicts my earlier statement.  Maybe it’s a paradox.  I am and I am not.  I’m not certain if the film is finding a new life in me or if I’m finding a new life in the film.  I don’t know.  Maybe there’s a fallen tree between the two.

ST: It’s not necessarily contradictory, but simply how you see it play out.

SR: Considering the sweep of poems in Cinéma Vérite, I do, as a writer, tend to gravitate toward certain films, genres, directors.  Some of them stand out – French New Wave (their offspring and ancestors), German directors, films of the 60s/70s, documentary.  Some of the filmmakers – Ingmar Bergman, David Lynch, Krzysztof Kieślowski – moved me in sizable ways, allowing me to find a layered approach to the writing.  In fact, the works in this collection are as close to what I wanted – from a writer’s standpoint – as I’m capable of accomplishing.

ST: Were you drawn to film from a young age?

SR: Films have always held an elevated place in my world – from about the age of 8 or 9.  I began watching movies as a child of 8 or 9 when my parents bought a television.  A small Philco, B/W, with rabbit ears for signal – two local stations – in the family room.  I watched from my red rocker – still have that chair – though the TV is long gone.  I never really liked television shows, but always loved movies.  I preferred the longer length as opposed to the fast-paced shows.  We never went to the theater to watch new movies.  My early experience was shaped by the older films that were shown on television and how they were presented.  In some ways this was very limiting and misleading (since very few new movies were shown and because of the editing involved to fit both screen size – long before HD – as well as the schedule format) but quite positive in others (because of the total absence of distractions).  For this reason, watching films became a more personal experience – more like reading a book.  As a teenager, I did watch movies in theaters, but the experience wasn’t a good one because of the noisy and active crowd.  I preferred the solitude of watching films alone.  Still do.

ST: What early films inspired you?

SR: First loves – Universal horror films – The Bride of Frankenstein, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, The Old Dark House – Always loved the works of James Whale – Dracula (1931), King Kong (1933), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), Island of Lost Souls (1932) … I then gravitated toward the films of Val Lewton and, most specifically, the Hammer films (my guilty pleasure … the great Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Ingrid Pitt ) such as Quartermass and the Pit, Horror of Dracula, The Devil Rides Out.  Horror films led me to Hitchcock, and that pushed me in the direction of European films – specifically German … works by Murnau and Lang – and on and on.  Dreyer’s Vampyr (1932) was a revelation for me, causing me to view cinematic narratives and film in general in a different way.  But, I still have a passion for those early films.

ST: For you, is the writing of poems a state of prayerfulness?

SR: Very much so.  The physical act of writing is, for me, an almost sacred act.   Since I consider prayer to be primarily a solitary doing, the comparison with writing is a great analogy.  Pray focuses all its energies on the sacred, and to write is to seek a sacred state – being in touch with the right moment.

When I write, I prefer solitude and contemplation, mainly because of my own methods.  I say my poems more than write them.  I don’t like being disturbed.  That kills it.  Normally, by the time I reach the writing stage, the draft is finished.  This isn’t always the case, of course, but it’s the way it usually happens.  I listen, speak, then write.  I hear the lines first, speak them, then write them down.  The process is rewarding but difficult – since the necessity of the day-to-day in my world gets in the way of writing.  The challenge is to find the moments, to be ready.

_______________________

Susan-Tepper200w

Susan Tepper is the author of four published books. Her current titles include The Merrill Diaries and From the Umberplatzen (Wilderness House Press, 2012) – a quirky love story set in Germany and told in linked-flash. Tepper has received nine Pushcart nominations, and one for the Pulitzer Prize for her novel What May Have Been (with Gary Percesepe) published by Cervena Barva Press in 2010. Tepper created the Monday Chat Interview series at Fictionaut, and the reading series FIZZ at KGB Bar in NYC. Her work appears in hundreds of print and online venues. www.susantepper.com

 by Susan Tepper

Susan Tepper:  You wrote a fiction collection based on your personal experience of being a  nurse in Viet Nam during that war.  It is titled “Don’t Mean Nothing.”  Can you explain this choice of title?

FBpic Susan O’Neill:  “Don’t mean nothing”— as spoken, was actually Don’t mean nothin’—  an omnipresent catch-phrase. We used it whenever we were frustrated about anything, but in particular with the craziness of the war, and how it didn’t square with any known logic. It was our generation’s FUBAR (Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition) or Catch-22. A death, a broken heart, bad news from home, an operating room full of broken bodies after you’ve spent the night on call. Hell, even finding that they’d run out of SOS at Midnight Breakfast (yes, creamed beef on toast, and there really was breakfast at midnight at hospitals) could elicit a “Don’t mean nothin’.” Nurses, techs, soldiers, pilots, whatever—  we all used it roughly the same way, as a faux-offhand reaction to just about anything that happened, on a scale from annoying to disastrous. It was probably the second most popular expletive in Viet Nam.

ST:  SOS to mean ‘shit on a shingle.’  I remember that usage from my youth, too.  Sue, this collection hit me in two ways: First, personally, because I had some ‘minor’ experience of Viet Nam having flown in with the troops as a stewardess.  And most of all because of the power of these stories, put forth in straight, simple prose.  Was it an emotional experience for you writing this book decades after the war was over?

S.O.N.  Initially I didn’t even consider writing about Viet Nam. I had tried to keep a journal, but dropped it after about a week. I wrote an essay for RN Magazine while I was in-country, about a kid we “adopted” at one of my hospitals, but that had been horribly re-edited (or maybe just horribly written and badly re-edited), and I’d hated the final edition.

When I got back to the States, I was exhausted, depleted to the depths of my soul (which, at that point, I wasn’t sure I even had). Nobody really wanted to hear about Viet Nam, as I discovered when I got in people’s faces— as I too often did— about the tragic craziness and injustice of it.  I got married, had my first child, traveled a bit with Paul and Kym on money Paul and I had saved in Viet Nam, marched on Washington, spent a year in the now-defunct Peace Corps Family Program, sang in bars, wrote funny columns for local newspapers, did the occasional nursing gig, and took the odd college class. I had a lot to do, and a lot to adjust to. And I was still too angry about the war to even consider putting it down on paper— not that I would’ve known how.

ST:  You came home and had a child.  That is a way of starting the healing.  In this collection there’s a story about a Vietnamese boy child called Butch. 

It begins:  “Spec 4 August Wray met his son—  the child of his heart, if not his loins—  in June of 1969.” 

 What was the genesis of this particular story?

S.O.N.  Ah. That’s the boy I wrote about for RN Magazine. The child himself was pretty much as I described him in the story. A few men casually spoke about adopting him, but nobody I know pursued it. But…here’s where fiction raises its foxy little head: what if somebody did?

In that story, Auggie Wray (Spec 4 August Wray, the character) simply suggested himself for the job, then grew to fit the picture. I intended him to be married, and to live in Maine— I was comfortable with Maine because I’d lived there for ten years— and I intended him to be a quiet man. I was actually surprised when he turned out so shy. Ultimately, I followed his lead as he worked to adopt Butch. Most of the story was his doing: he took over that “what if.”

The story was also greatly influenced by a sense of futility I’d developed from volunteering at an orphanage.

The orphanage was in Hue, and I used it in the story even though I’m really not sure where the docs who brought Butch in had found him. Each week, on my day off, I showed up in the courtyard with two or three other volunteers, and the kids would swarm all over us.  There was an absolute herd of kids, desperate to be noticed, touched, hugged. Many— maybe even most of them— were half-American or half-Korean or half- whoever else was soldiering in their country; many of them, I learned, actually had living mothers. Their mothers had left them at the orphanage because they couldn’t afford to keep them, or because the child’s different look could mark a mother as consorting with the enemy. Which, of course, could be fatal. The place broke my heart every time I went there.

Orphans, demi-orphans, mothers— they are all casualties of war. A reporter might write the odd feature story in the news about an orphan, but if you’ve been on the ground in a country where war is being waged, you realize at a gut level how many, many children are left like litter by the wayside. How can their lives ever be “normal,” during the war or after it? It’s just so horribly unfair, so horribly wasteful. So much damage for the innocents— all because politicians who will never meet them work their strategies and alliances and games against other politicians, all at a safe, insulated distance.

So in a very small, micro-vision way, this book is a story about all that. And about caring about it, and getting your heart broken.

I might note, also, at the time I met Butch, we all assumed that he suffered from malnutrition— that was why his legs were deformed, and his belly so round. Maybe that was true. However, a few years after I got back to the States, I was watching a report on TV about the effects of Agent Orange on the population of Viet Nam, and one of the children in the documentary had the exact same deformity as Butch.

 S.T.:  Kirkus Review wrote: “M.A.S.H., with lots more sex and cursing.”  A Kirkus Review is a great thing to have on your book.  You told the stories straightforward and therein lies its power.

I also have to mention your book cover.  The photo is compelling and rather heartbreaking in that it sums up a lot.

DMNphoto

S.O.N.  It’s a picture of Nancy Jones Johnson, taken by Eileen Hotaling, who served together in Viet Nam and are still friends. I’ve never met either woman; I found it through a mutual friend back when Ballantine (who first published this book) was looking for an appropriate cover photo. Ballantine didn’t want it, and solved the relevance problem by turning most of the cover into whitespace, keeping the helicopters on top. I later offered the picture to UMass Press when they made their paperback edition of my book, and they used it as the whole cover— rather dully, I thought. My current editor at Serving House Books loved the picture and coupled it with a letter he had from the era.

I’ve sent the two nurses copies and small “rights payments” for the last two copies, and received pleasant notes in reply. I confess that I don’t know the specific story behind the picture. But children were far from unusual in Army hospitals— I wouldn’t be surprised if civilian death and injury tolls were substantially higher than military. You can aim an M16, but bombs, mines, grenades, napalm and mortars aren’t magnetized to hit soldiers alone.

Sometimes I think we are cavalier about waging war because we haven’t had it on our soil— not intense, prolonged, possessive war like those we fight in other countries— since the Civil War. We have no memory, no knowledge of the real damage and chaos it wreaks beyond that affecting the soldiers we send to fight.

 

Susan O’Neill has also written Calling New Delhi for Free [and other ephemeral truths of the 21st Century] (Peace Corps Writers, 2013), and her book Don’t Mean Nothing: Short Stories of Viet Nam (Serving House Press expanded edition, 2010; Ballantine 2001; Black Swan [UK] 2002, UMass Press 2004) can be found HERE.  You can also read more at her website http://susanoneill.us. 

________________________________

Susan Tepper is the author of four published books.  Her current titles include The Merrill Diaries and  From the Umberplatzen (Wilderness House Press, 2012) – a quirky love story set in Germany and told in linked-flash.  Tepper has received nine Pushcart nominations, and one for the Pulitzer Prize for her novel What May Have Been (with Gary Percesepe) published by Cervena Barva Press in 2010.   Tepper created the Monday Chat Interview series at Fictionaut, and the reading series FIZZ at KGB Bar in NYC.  Her work appears in hundreds of print and online venues.  www.susantepper.com

Matthew Salessesby Matthew Salesses

Talking about a story of fewer than 1000, or 500, or 300 words, means by nature talking about restraint.

I am a firm believer in the idea that limits increase creativity rather than restrict it. Perhaps this is what attracts me to the very short form: flash fiction or prose poetry or sudden fiction or whatever you want to call it. When I am working on a flash project, I like to give myself restraints. I wrote my chapbook, Our Island of Epidemics, by trying to write in first-person plural, which I had never done before. The epidemics themselves were restrictions, as I fit the stories to the rules of diseases like unrequited love or unstoppably growing hearts or memory loss.

My new book is a novel in flash fiction, made up of 115 mini-chapters, called I’m Not Saying, I’m Just Saying. I wrote it with the following restraints: each chapter could not be longer than a page, each chapter had to include an object chosen at random beforehand, and each sentence should try to include a “turn.” I kept these rules loosely. I considered a “turn” the point where a sentence reveals something new, or moves the story in a new direction, or flips something earlier in the sentence on its head.

For example, a sentence might begin with a man unsure whether the boy beside him is his biological son, and end with the man feeling sympathy for the boy’s understanding of the ocean. That is a turn in a very short story, to me. When I was working on the novel at length, I would write a chapter or two each day, giving myself objects from around the house to work with: a bed, a glove, a hairband, a book jacket, a dinosaur toy. Sometimes these objects made it into the final drafts, and sometimes not.

In one of my many attempts to make ends meet, I teach a flash fiction course in which I have students write a story a week based on prompts. I often tell them that one thing a story does not make, but two or three things a story can make—part of the movement of a very short story is the connection drawn between seemingly disparate objects or characters: a father, a boy, the ocean, dead starfish. If we connect dots that appear at odds, we’re moving the reader from one place or idea to another across a large metaphysical space: we’re creating or at least indicating that there is an arc, an underlying shape.

I read about a study once in which people were forced to look at a drawing that had been left unfinished; they wanted more than anything to complete it. As long as the reader can see that there is somewhere to go, he will fill in the missing path.

I give my students prompts each week that often involve leaving much of the story out: write a list that reveals a character, write a story composed entirely of facts, write a scene with a MacGuffin—an object that is never revealed to the reader. The second prompt, the story made of facts, gets especially interesting results. The example story I give was published in NANO Fiction: “On Stammering,” in which the narrator states a number of facts about stammering that slowly expose his personal relation to those facts. The students who stick closely to the prompt learn the most from it: writing only one type of sentence makes them think harder about how to create a story between the lines. I save this prompt for a certain point in the course, when I think that they are ready for that struggle.

Talking about a story of fewer than 1000, or 500, or 300 words, means by nature talking about restraint. Restraint must be exercised in the diction, the imagery, the characterization, the plot. Everything needs to work on multiple levels. Everything needs to be important. This is usually why students resist the restraints, at first. They think they need more freedom, more tools, in order to be precise. But it is the scene in a movie where the spy is locked up that we learn what kind of hero he is. Is he a planner; is he an improviser; is he a traitor? We must have at hand more than a simple trick to get us out; the best escape is more than an escape, it’s an adaptation. You only have one leg and there is a wide sea to swim across and no food except endless fish? That is when you find your story has always been a mermaid.

____________________________________

 

Matthew Salesses is a staff/faculty assistant at Harvard Kennedy School of Government working for the Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality & Social Policy and a widely published young author. He also writes a column for the new online magazine The Good Men Project about being a new father. His novel, I’m Not Saying, I’m Just Saying is divided into small, easily digestible bits of flash fiction.


Next Page »