Process


by Mark Budman

Mark Budman

In a quote often misattributed to Mark Twain, the 17th-century French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal said, “I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had time to make it shorter.” As applied to flash fiction writers, the masters of compressed work, that probably means we have too much time on our hands. Our letters/stories are short (but not necessarily sweet) and to the point. We don’t mince words. We are looking for redundancies, imperfections and dead waste that get in the way, and cut them off like a surgeon or a sculptor.

I didn’t know that when I started to write flash. I foolishly thought that a shorter fiction requires less time. Don’t you need to hit fewer keys on the keyboard to write short? And most people are always short on time.

It was too late when I realized my mistake. I already fell in love with the genre. I loved it so much that I just had to start my own magazine of flash fiction, Vestal Review. We didn’t have an overabundance of magazines specializing in flash at the time. In fact, to my knowledge, we had none back in 2000.

It seems to me that a cliché is the number one enemy of a writer. We must say something that hasn’t been said before, and do it in a new way. While conventional writers can afford to go on and on, we, the flash fiction writers, have to know that we must stop before any of our colleagues do.

Dorothy Parker once said: “Katharine Hepburn delivered a striking performance that ran the gamut of emotions, from A to B.” While limited in the number of words, we still can’t be like Katharine Hepburn in Dorothy’s Parker interpretation. We still should strive for our gamut of emotions to run at least from A to Y. Let the writers of the longer works work on their Zees.

Actually, to me, limitations are enhancing creativity rather than constraining it. The mind finds ingenious solutions that the writers of longer fiction might overlook. Flash writers are the enemies of fat. While fat could taste delicious to some, lean muscles are more effective.

To me, flash fiction is both a stepping stone to great longer works and an exciting genre on its own.

Read this story for the example of consecutive halving of the number of words in each part. The plot stays the same, but the effect changes dramatically.

This is a great illustration of what flash fiction is about. Word and sentence compression is a lean, muscular and energetic writing device. That’s why I write this way.

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Mark Budman was born in the former Soviet Union. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in such magazines as Mississippi Review, Virginia Quarterly, The London Magazine (UK), McSweeney’s, Sonora Review, Another Chicago, Sou’wester, Turnrow, Southeast Review, Mid-American Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, the W.W. Norton anthology Flash Fiction Forward, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure, Short Fiction(UK), and elsewhere. He is the publisher of a flash fiction magazine Vestal Review. His novel, My Life at First Try. was published by Counterpoint Press to wide critical acclaim. He co-edited flash fiction anthologies from Ooligan Press and Persea Books/Norton. He is at work on his novel about Lenin running for the president of the United States. Read more at his website http://markbudman.net.

by Sarah Crysl Akhtar

 Sarah AkhtarThere’s a lot of disdain these days for traditional publishing. Unknown writers look at the odds, and then at the alternatives, and are increasingly tempted to self-publish.

There are plenty of springy-looking platforms to leap off of. Anyone willing to invest a little money and a lot of time can start marketing their own work.

Should you bite that apple?

What’s so great about brick and mortar publishers, anyway?

Web-based publishers have cut overhead to the bone and many of them are marvelous. They’ve created a reader’s paradise. Even the cheapest paperbacks are largely unaffordable to people on limited budgets. But an e-book can be less expensive than a cup of coffee from the corner deli.

And web-based writers’ groups help fledgling authors build supportive audiences and markets for their work. You can be in the midst of a thriving artistic community no matter where you live.

But one of the fruits of a healthy community is a sort of self-censorship. It’s not dishonesty, but rather the desire not to wound. If we all said everything we thought, with absolute truth, all the time, life would become unbearable.

And writers’ circles or critique groups tend to form around people of similar levels of achievement. Everyone’s growing together. And everyone hopes for success, for themselves and their colleagues. There’s a powerful fellowship of encouragement.

This Eden needs a serpent.

I have never joyfully welcomed the email saying “there’s a slight problem with your story.” Seriously. Would I have sent it in if I thought it wasn’t ready?

It took me well over a year to skip the mental hyper-ventilating and get straight to revising, whenever a rewrite request arrived. I can still feel my head lowering mutinously as I read any criticism of my work.

But most of the editors I’ve worked with have helped me strengthen my own voice. Sometimes I don’t accede to every single suggestion, but I have never declined to revise a story, when requested.

That was a mistake in only one instance, but I knew at the time I was going for publication rather than the purity of my artistic vision, so to speak. So I take full responsibility for that.

Your mastery of craft is constantly growing. I’m pretty confident in my own gifts, now, but even so, it startles me to see how a beginning story from a couple of months ago, say, will seem awfully lacking today. I’ll need to rework those first few paragraphs before I can go any further.

When you self-publish, you have few brakes on that giddy road towards becoming a fine author. There’s an enticing tidbit that people like to munch on—the lists of successful authors showing how many times clueless agents and publishers turned them down, before they signed their first book contract.

Yes, it is true that genius is not always recognized in a timely way by the minions born to serve it. It’s true that very fine writers are rejected every day, and that self-publishing can be a midwife to works that truly deserve to see the light of day.

It can also make a name for you that you might wish you could escape, later. Maybe you’ve got great potential now but you’re not quite there yet. Maybe in a year or two or five, undaunted by rejection, you’ll have found that remarkable voice you always knew was inside.

Or maybe you published before you should have, and you had a brief exciting moment of seeing your stuff offered on Amazon, with wonderful reviews by everyone you know, and you never got any better than you were at that moment.

Don’t just believe the people who like you, and care about you, and want you to succeed. Think about why some of those people who’d love to have discovered the next new great talent are saying you’re not ready yet.

____________

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 Cameron Filas

Cameron_Filas

If you’re like many writers, revision can be an enjoyable yet tedious process. The worst part is that sometimes even after countless revisions, nail biting, and hair pulling, your finished product gets rejected.

This often isn’t something you can control. Maybe it wasn’t a good fit for that publication. Perhaps the editor was just in a bad mood after spilling their coffee in their lap. Or, maybe you overlooked some things in the revision process that cost you the acceptance.

Many editors are usually forgiving if your work has a few grammar or spelling mistakes. We’re human after all. There are more damning things however, which are in your control to correct before submitting your writing.

So what is the solution? It’s simple, and probably something you’ve got on your desk right now: sticky notes!

How can a thin, probably colorful piece of paper with some adhesive on one end help you? Use it to become your own critic and workshop buddy.

Here’s what you do: take a pad of sticky notes and grab a pen; then, taking care to write legibly, jot down some bullet point questions for yourself. These should be things that perhaps you’ve received feedback about in rejection letters, or know are vital to any good piece. Here are some examples:

  • All five senses?
  • Good dialogue?
  • Main character growth/development?
  • Clear beginning, middle, end?
  • Holes in story?
  • Is there a twist?
  • Does it flow?
  • Did I read it aloud?

These questions should be geared specifically towards you. Be honest about your weaknesses and flaws as a writer, we all have some. Some other great reminders include: “Wait a day!”—if you’re one of those people that doesn’t give yourself a breather before revising a new piece—and, of course, the pivotal “So what? Who cares?”—which most editors will ask themselves after having read your work.

Does your story matter? Is it a linear plot with cut-and-paste characters that don’t serve a purpose? By writing the tough questions down for yourself now, you have a much better chance at making sure your work is as complete and satisfactory for potential readers as possible.

Once you have made your personalized sticky note (or several if you have big handwriting or lots of questions), slap that sucker somewhere you will see it every time you write and revise. You can tape it flat against your desk, so you’re forced to look at it as you type, or you can stick it to your desk lamp and use it as needed.

You don’t even have to use sticky notes if you don’t want to! Feel free to type yourself a note on the computer, tattoo it onto your arm, or frame and hang it over your printer. The important thing here is that you are honest about which reminders you need to improve your writing. Revision isn’t always fun, but you can make the process much more rewarding by challenging yourself with the hard questions that editors will ask of your work.

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Cameron Filas is an avid reader and novice author of short fiction and other various work. Though he has enjoyed writing from a very young age, he has only recently begun a serious pursuit of the craft. Cameron lives in Mesa, AZ, with his girlfriend, a dog, and a demon cat who he is pretty sure is plotting to kill him. You can visit his corner of the web at cameronfilas.wordpress.com.

 

by Andreé Robinson-Neal

Andree-New

It’s time for us to take a look back over the month of costumes and candy corn now that we have stepped over the threshold into the domain of Arctic chills and turkeys. The month of October was certainly full of sweet treats and if you missed any of these tasty morsels you will want to pop over to Flash Fiction Chronicles and savor each one in full.

Susan Tepper got us off to a delicious start with her Bonnie ZoBell UNCOV/rd interview. We aren’t sure how Bonnie is able to cram all her awards and books, including her newest—What Happened Here: a novella and stories—into her home, but Susan managed to give us a nice tour of both the neighborhood and Bonnie’s writing inspirations.

Part of the fun of October is all the yummy sweets and Sarah Crysl Akhtar went back into the EDF Archive to bring us a wonderfully palatable tale called She’s a Biter. From the perspective of a child, we learn about family ties. And zombies. The story was close to receiving triple-digit votes and is certainly a perfect piece for the month of monsters.

Cameron Filas brought us back to (one of) the reasons we’re here with his piece on what to do when your accepted submission appears to have dropped off the cliff. He reminds us that we should put on our most endearing smile and send off a short note of inquiry. You might have snuggled down and expected a fright from T. Gene Davis since his article was called Hook the Skimmers, but his piece is not a Halloween tale. Rather, he treats us to his three-step method for taking those casual lookers and turning them into dedicated fans of our work.

Meg Tuite shared how she has attempted to “escape the  flesh canvas” and delights us in her honest (and not-horror-related) Why I Write Flash Fiction article. Thomas Kearnes does manage to give us a bit of a scare though: his title is Leaving Flash Fiction Behind and fortunately he added For Now to keep us from a panic. He talks of the seduction of flash and the challenge of stepping into the experience of writing longer works. And for those of us who need to strengthen our relationship with flash, Angela Rydell gave us a list of five online courses that will help us flex those mental muscles.

If your mental goodie bags are nearly full, be sure to leave room for the last few treats of the month. Sarah Crysl Akhtar circles back around to the things that go bump in the night and gives us links to five stories designed to properly inspire the chills. Jim Harrington provides a list chock full of markets ready for those polished stories, while Dr. Suzanne Conboy-Hill reminds us of what a mouthful (eyeful?) flash should be and how to properly use it to bait your hook for readers. Aliza Greenblatt closes the month with the EDF’s Top Author for September, Joanna Bressler, who shares about her multifaceted writing influences.

As you book your dental appointments and get ready for holiday shopping, be sure to stop through Flash Fiction Chronicles during the month of November. There are plenty of articles, reviews, and markets waiting for you to carve up and dig into.

____________

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

Joanna Bressler

Joanna Bressler was a dancer, therapist, researcher and professor. She has graduate degrees in psychology and epidemiology. Now she writes, edits and babysits her grandkids. Her short fiction and memoir pieces have been published in EDF, Trapeze, Flash Fiction Magazine, Persimmon Tree, AARP Bulletin, New Age Journal. As far as writing goes, she revises too much. She’s insanely grateful to EDF and its readers for giving her work such a boost.

Aliza Greenblatt: From your bio it seems you’ve worn many different types of hats. Do your professional interests often find their way into your fiction? Did your background in psychology influence The Throwback Girl?

Joanna Bressler: Everything finds its way into my fiction. Try as hard as I do to keep certain things out, in they come, often carrying a shotgun.

Epidemiology is a sure fire influence on my writing.

Diseases fascinated me way back in childhood. I had measles the winter I was ten and read Microbe Hunters (diphtheria, ticks, tsetse flies, malaria, rabies, yellow fever, syphilis) by flashlight under the covers while still miserably sick. My parents discovered me at about 3 a.m. After a whole lot of incredulous eye-rolling and head-shaking, they confiscated the flashlight.

In my epidemiology M.P.H. program, which I allowed myself as a reward for the struggle I went through twenty years earlier getting my Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, I learned gorgeous disease words like infectivity, pathogenicity, virulence, sputum cytology, herd immunity, case fatality rate.

Later on these words entered my fiction.

For example, I was having trouble with the male hero of a long story. He was too passive, too awkward, too distant, too defensive. A real wimp. I was at the point of hitting the delete button when I thought to give him a pronounced limp from childhood polio. Two pages on childhood polio flew into the story and in the process my hero became downright lovable. And not just to me, to the heroine of the story as well.

Characters do come alive in my stories when I make them sick.

Psychology, my day job forever and then some, is a big influence too. I try to blame it and not me for everything interminably boring in what I write.

The major influences on my writing, however, are the writing classes, workshops and critique groups I’ve attended during the past two decades. As with all influences, these include the good, the bad, and the ugly. But mainly I’ve been very lucky. Many terrific teachers and generous fellow writers have helped me learn to write.

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

JB: O.K. Here goes.

I came home late one night and my door key got stuck in the lock. Neither I nor a night-owl neighbor could budge it. I had to go sleep over at my daughter and son-in-law’s apartment and be very quiet about it because they had a new baby upstairs.

I was almost asleep on the couch downstairs when, not the new baby but this girl in my brain, woke me with a barrage of complaints about her mother, her father, her sister, her doctors, and how she herself was being forced to climb a horrible trail to some stupid place her mother liked.

She talked on and on and I didn’t know her from Adam but finally I felt honor bound to pry my eyes open, rummage around for paper and pencil, and write down what she was saying. It took everything I had but I got most of it and then about two hours of sleep.

In the morning, once the new baby woke everybody up, I found under the couch seven moderately legible pages in which a story was hiding. The new baby, my younger grandchild, had his 8th birthday the month and year (September, 2014) that EDF in its infinite kindness accepted a much more coherent version of those seven pages.

I really, really, really wish that this was my typical writing process. It is not.

Typically I believe that each new idea will be my last and is not very good anyway. Typically I have to search desperately for viable characters, plots and settings. Typically, to paraphrase Paul Simon, I know fifty ways to leave a laptop.

Often I consult the Rune stones from Scandinavia as part of my creative process. Earlier today, for example, I drew a rune stone from my little blue velvet bag to help me figure out what exactly to say about my writing process other than it being a complete shambles.

The pattern on the stone I drew was a lopsided cross. It stood for, get this, “Constraint,
Necessity, Pain.” I thought, “Uh-oh, this can’t be good. What does it even mean? How could the rune stones do this to me?” Only then did I realize that these three words pretty much nail my typical creative process to the wall.

AG: One of the things I enjoyed most about this story is the slow reveal of the narrator’s character – which is not an easy thing to accomplish in flash fiction. Was the pacing something you struggled with in the story? What were some of your favorite parts of the story? What were some of the most challenging?

JB: I’ve never heard that phrase “the slow reveal of the narrator’s character.” Thank you, Aliza, for introducing it to me.

O.K. When I brought the first draft of this story to a critique group, people thought Alicia was not a human being. Well, I did think she was a human being.

Getting her to that place where most readers could agree with me took so many revisions that it’s still embarrassing. Through them, however, I managed to soften Alicia without losing her true voice. The softening appears in the late middle and at the end of the story. I’m thinking perhaps that’s what you mean by “the slow reveal.”

One of my favorite parts was the Wizard of Oz metaphor. I’ve had to watch that movie maybe ten, fifteen, times with this little girl I know, my older grandchild. I felt pure glee when it fit so easily into the story.

The most challenging part was every word after Alicia pushes Mindy into the stream.

AG: The tension between Alicia and her mother is quickly established in the story. She’s constantly giving examples of her mother’s inability to see and accept Alicia for who she is. But by the same metric, do you think Alicia was perhaps also misjudging her own family in the same way?

JB: Mainly I see Alicia as an adolescent. In my opinion, it’s an adolescent’s job to misjudge their family, probably so that they can separate from it without feeling a terrible loss.

AG: Aside from unfinished novels, what else do you like to write? Do you write many flash fiction stories or is this new territory for you?

JB: I’m not a real fan of writing unfinished novels.

And I feel compelled to add that I do have one still in the works. I just can’t seem to advance the plot. I can’t even find the plot. Perhaps I’ll get back to this novel on my death bed. Rear up, wave my arms wildly, scream out, “Aha! ‘Sister Clare leaves the convent and marries the Chief of Homicide.’ Please, somebody, write that down this instant.”

For now, I’ve switched over to fine-tuning several of my short stories (ranging from 100 to 8000 words) for submission. I don’t submit very often so this is proving to be a challenge.

On the subject of flash fiction, a beloved aunt of mine who was an artist once made me two elegant little paintings with her own maxims embedded in them. “Lose Not Thy Marbles” is one; “Hasten Thy Story” is the other. They hang above my desk. Writing flash fiction keeps me true in the moment to both maxims. My aunt would approve.

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?

JB: Post-Mortem Exam was posted in Flash Fiction Magazine on June 26th. Two other stories are in EDF. Some funny tweets are up on Trapeze Magazine. And, as I just hinted, a veritable meteor shower of stories is on its way running.

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

JB: Thank you, Aliza, this was exciting for me. I love your work. It’s wonderful having you give such thoughtful attention to mine.

__________________

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

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