Process


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.

__________________

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 Jim Harrington

jimharrington2

I began writing fiction in January of 2007. In October of 2008, I created a blog where I posted a quote and then wrote about what the quote meant to me as a writer. Honestly, the daily posts were intended for myself. They were a way to force me to think about each quote and how it might change my writing. If people reading my comments gained from them, so much the better. I’m going to post a few of these as I wrote them—even if I feel differently now. Feel free to agree, or disagree, or add your own take on the quote and what I said. Here’s the first one.

***

The Rejection Blues (first published on October 23, 2009)

As part of a panel on “Submitting Your Short Story,” I found myself saying, “I totally grant the possibility that a story I sent out sucks, and I do give rejections and comments the power (eventually) to let me know such a thing. But I would never grant them the power to determine whether I’m a writer or not. No one gets to decide that but me. -Randall Brown in Submitting Your Story (As Opposed to Yourself).

Randall’s post comes at a perfect time for me. I received two rejection e-mails this week, and the last two stories I submitted to a weekly writing challenge received less than rave reviews. I checked my submissions database, and I’ve received 181 rejections since July of 2007. I didn’t look at how many stories this covered. Some were rejected multiple times.

You might think I’d be used to rejection, but it still hurts; especially when, for whatever reason, I expect an editor to fall in love with a story. One aspect of the process that bothers me is when an editor (and this happens in critique groups also) explains how he would have written the story, or what he expected at the end. Gosh, if I wanted to write his story, I would have interviewed him before I started. Okay, that may be sour grapes, but I’m interested in how my story worked, not what someone else’s expectations were. I don’t remember who it was that suggested no critique should include the word I, but I agree.

In the end, I have to remember Randall’s advice and realize it’s not me an editor is rejecting. It’s my story. On the good news side, I received three acceptances this week, and a three-to-two ratio is something to be happy about. Still…

____________

 Jim Harrington began writing fiction in 2007 and has agonized over the form ever since. His stories have appeared in Every Day Fiction, Liquid Imagination, Ink Sweat and Tears, Near to the Knuckle, Flashes in the Dark, and others. He serves as the Managing Editor for Flash Fiction Chronicles. Jim’s Six Questions For . . . blog provides editors and publishers a place to “tell it like it is.” You can read more of his stories at http://jpharrington.blogspot.com.

 

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.

____________

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 Rohini Gupta

Rohini Gupta

There are many reasons why writers fail and one of the biggest–and deadliest–of them is distraction.

You probably recognize its symptoms. You are working well and then you feel like taking a break. Then you remember unfinished chores. You think, let me answer my email and then come back. That is the untimely end of your writing day.

At night, you wonder what happened, where the day went and why was it that, once again, you got no writing done.

There are people for whom this is a chronic condition. I have a friend who leaves early morning on an errand and comes back, late at night, having done a lot of small unconnected things, but not the errand.

Been there, done that.

There was a time when I, too, lived in that garbage heap, amid the obscenely unfinished story bits, novel ideas, dangling lines of poems, rotting remnants of chapters and books. I felt trapped and frustrated and needed a way out but everyone I asked was in the same leaky, listing, capsizing boat.

I had to turn inwards and look at my own behavior instead.

The breaks were the problem. Once I took a break I never returned. So I tried to take no breaks at all. That was even worse. My writing bogged down at once and my stress levels hit the roof.

So, I asked, what happens when I take a break?

That was when I saw that invisible, insidious second bird.

This is how it goes.

Every few hours, distraction hits. One shy bird alights on your shoulder whispering, don’t you want some coffee? Ignoring it does not help. It will not go away.

So, you follow the first bird and make a cup. So far, so good.

The mischief begins here. Distraction never comes alone. It comes in flocks. The first bird leads to a second, Now that you are up, why not finish that job you keep putting off?

If you go there it leads you to the graveyard of writing dreams.

It is difficult to see, but once I caught sight of that second bird, the solution turned out to be surprisingly easy and immediate to implement. It was one of the most important things I ever learned and it took me all the way to the publication of a book.

It worked for me. It worked for a few others who had the same problem. Maybe it will work for you and take you right to the threshold of your dreams.

This is the key.

That first bird is your friend. When it shows up, suggesting a break, take one. Even a long one. The length does not matter. You need that break to refresh and recharge. Take as many breaks as you need.

The second bird is your enemy, the masked and cloaked super villain who only wants to see your writing career die. It reminds you of all the things you have not done.

It has repetitive complaints–too hard, too long, too terrible.

This is too hard. How about working on that story you put away a year ago?

It’s taking too long, why not finish a quick one first?

The first draft is terrible, better try something else.

The second bird speaks in the voice of your doubts and fears and takes you down a very dark road indeed.

What you have to do is wait for it and recognize it.

When it does appear with its siren call, be firm, no, I am going right back to the very sentence I left. Be determined and return to the same page. Be clear in your mind, I will finish this before I go to anything else.

I always finish what I start. I am a finisher.

Get into the habit of finishing everything even if it is worthless. A particular story may be no good but the habit of finishing is worth all the wealth in the world.

That one small adjustment will enable you to leave the junkyard far behind and enter the blue summer skies of writing completion.

It’s a very simple rule.

Go with the first bird and take all the breaks. Relax, enjoy.

Then, return and pick up exactly where you left off.

Never, ever, follow that career destroying, morale sapping second bird.

____________

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. Her blog is at http://wordskies.wordpress.com.

 

 

By Jim Harrington

jimharrington2

As part of the 2014 National Flash Fiction Day-New Zealand, a contest was held for the best flash story of 300 words or fewer. Below I interview the winners–Sarah Dunn, First Place for Islands and Cities; Tricia Hanifin, Second Place for With Our Eyes Closed We Begin to Dance; and Sue Kingham, Third Place for Just My Luck.

Flash Fiction Chronicles: What draws you to flash fiction?

Sarah Dunn2

Sarah Dunn: It’s an interesting new shape. I didn’t give the form much thought until it occurred to me that flash fiction could be treated like a hybrid between poetry and traditional short stories, and there’s a lot of fertile space between those two poles.

Partricia Hanifin

Trisha Hanifin: A number of things: the challenge of brevity and intensity, and the sense of intimacy such intensity can create; the process of finding what is essential in a story and what is superfluous; and the condensed nature of flash makes it a close relation to poetry.

I’ve always liked Frank O’Connor’s argument that short stories represent a struggle with time, that they’re an attempt to reach some vantage point from which past and future are equally visible. I think this is especially true of flash fiction because what you often see on the page is a mid pointor flash point—between the past and future, both of which are not mentioned but are somehow made visible by the tiny, spotlighted moment of the story.

Sue KinghamSue Kingham: I am a student on the Hagley Writers’ Institute first year course in Christchurch. This year I began entering writing competitions and submitting my stories to the Flash Frontier website. I enjoy writing flash fiction and the length has enabled me to produce a number of stories in a short period of time.

FFC: Once you decided to enter this year’s NFFD NZ competition, what was your process for developing a story to submit? Where did the idea for your story come from?

Sarah Dunn: I might get into trouble for telling you this, but when I’m writing short pieces, I like to email early drafts to my work inbox and then leave the replies open all day so I can fiddle with them whenever I have a spare minute. For me, there’s a bit of a bell curve effect that governs how much effort I can successfully put into editing without sending the story off into wild and hostile territory, so addressing the job in short intervals keeps everything low-key.

The idea for Islands and Cities came from a combination of two pieces of media: Andrea O’Neil’s 2013 news story from the Dominion Post about the Spicer Landfill’s real-life seagull problem; and a majestic clip I saw on a David Attenborough documentary showing thousands of white seabirds plummeting into the sea all at once. Bird (and human) societies are fascinating.

Trisha Hanifin: This particular story developed out of an older, much longer story I’d been working on for a couple of years. I’d tried a number of different versions and lengths and never felt happy with them so this competition was an opportunity to try and find the core of the story again. In a more general way, a lot of my ideas for stories come from an imagined intersection between images, emotions and characters from popular culture and the character’s life in the story. Often I use songs, but in this instance, it was the Peanuts cartoon. I’m fascinated by the way in ordinary life, music, lyrics, images and symbols infiltrate our imaginations, become attached to our emotions and memories and become markers for important phases of our lives. I’ve always loved the qualites of sadness and bewilderment Charlie Brown has, and Snoopy’s joy and imagination, and I wanted to suggest all those possibilities and qualities in the story.

Sue Kingham: I frequently get ideas from reading the newspaper. I spotted the name Rowdy in an article and in the same paper I read a quote from someone who said they thought they were cursed although they didn’t believe in God. Creativity is a blending process, and these ideas were in my mind when I opened a photograph album with the intention of writing a story based on an old holiday. The image which caught my eye was of a South America street performer dressed as Jesus. My story came together from these three prompts.

FFC: Is your approach different depending on the length of story you plan to write? (Do you have an idea in advance how long a story will be?) For example, in the case of this competition the maximum word count was 300. What if the max was 1500?

Sarah Dunn: Whenever I’ve asked my chief reporter how many words she wants on a particular news topic, the answer has been: “Write it for what it’s worth.” It’s very difficult trying to craft story to fit a particular word count, but some ideas are worth more words than others. You get a feeling for which ideas might work with different shapes.

Trisha Hanifin: Mostly when I start writing a story I have no idea how long it will be or what will happen, I’m just exploring a mood or an emotion—sometimes I’ll have particular words or a voice in my head and I just try and follow that. I write very slowly over a long period of time, trying to find the center of the story. Writing flash fiction is often a process of removing everything unnecessary, no padding, no flab, so it’s a great writing teacher, a great discipline to learn. It’s enabled me to go back and look at longer stories and ‘flash’ sections of them—cut and shape them—until they’re clearer, cleaner, tighter. Less is, by definition, more in flash.

Sue Kingham: With flash fiction I enjoy capturing a specific moment in time while hinting at a complex backstory. There is little room for character development or a large cast list. If the maximum word count had been 1500 words, I would have been able to show some of the protagonist’s home life with his mother and Rowdy. However, the joy of flash fiction is that less is always more.

FFC: What other works have you published? What does your crystal ball say about your writing future?

Sarah Dunn: Working in the newsroom sucks up a lot of time and energy, and so far, all of my major writing achievements have been in journalism. I’ve just returned from six weeks reporting in South Korea, thanks to a grant from the Asia New Zealand Foundation, and I’m looking forward to seeing the material I gathered in Seoul and at the Demilitarized Zone published as long-form articles shortly.

I’d love to eventually see my work in fiction and non-fiction evolving a little more in parallel, but as long as I’ve got interesting things to write about one way or another, I’m content.

Trisha Hanifin: I’m quite new to flash fiction, I’ve only been writing it for a couple of years. This year I’ve had pieces published in Turbine and in Flash Frontier. In the past, I’ve been shortlisted in longer short story competitions in New Zealand and I completed a Masters in Creative Writing in 2010. I’m currently trying to complete a novel that I’ve been working on for a long time but often get sidetracked by writing other things. I love flash fiction because I get to finish something!

Sue Kingham: My other two published works have been flash fiction. My story, Family Outing, was chosen for Flash Frontier’s February 2014 collection, and in May I won the Scottish Literary Trust’s 50 word competition with a piece entitled The Twitcher. I am currently working on a YA science fiction novel and my dream is to make a career as an author. I appreciate this is a long shot – my crystal ball must be second-hand, because it refuses to reveal anything beyond this year.

____________

Sarah Dunn is a journalist who lives in Nelson. She graduated from Wellington’s Victoria University with a B.A. Hons in English Literature and Religious Studies. She is 26.

Trisha Hanifin has worked in adult education and adult literacy for over 25 years teaching a range of subjects including reading and writing at both foundational and academic levels. She has written on the nature and extent of adults’ literacy issues in Facing the Challenge: Foundation Learning for Adults in Aotearoa New Zealand, (Dunmore Press, 2008). In 2010 she gained a Masters of Creative Writing at Auckland University of Technology. Trisha writes short stories, flash fiction and is currently working on a novel, Ghost Travellers. Her stories have been shortlisted in a number of New Zealand competitions including the BNZ literary awards. This year her flash fiction has been published in Turbine and Flash Frontiers.

The February 2011 earthquake shook a love of writing back to the surface of Sue Kingham’s life: a case of literary fiction as opposed to liquefaction. She joined Helen Hogan’s WEA creative writing class in Christchurch and went on to become a member of the South Island Writers Association. Sue has attended several short writing courses and is currently a first year student at the Hagley Writer’s Institute. She has written poetry, a play for children, numerous short stories and she particularly enjoys writing flash fiction. She is currently working on a YA science fiction novel. She is married and is a busy mum with two primary aged children. When she’s manages to grab a spare moment, she can usually be found with her nose in a good book.

**Ms. Dunn’s picture taken by Marion van Dijk.

Next Page »