Process


by Krystyna Fedosejevs

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What was it like for me to start writing flash fiction? Exciting because it was a challenge, something new to explore and learn about. Frightening. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Nor was I confident that I was capable to reach the goal of mastering it.

Flash fiction. I heard about the form in writers’ circles approximately four years ago. Didn’t give it much thought, put it aside. Decided to continue channelling my energy into poetry, short stories and creative nonfiction. Not that I was an excellent writer in any of those areas, for I was not. Rather, I felt I was in my comfort zone having had some success being published and winning contests. Starting something new back then was not a consideration.

In late March 2013, I stumbled upon a website dedicated to flash writing (Flash Fiction World). I became a member. The site was set up as a tutorial and exercise meeting place for writers. We posted our stories and engaged in constructive criticism of each other’s works. We could also submit stories for publication and if chosen by the editor, they were published. I was fortunate to partake in this educational, exhilarating experience. In autumn of 2013, I learnt that the site had closed down.

Also of benefit were the following sites for writing tips as well as lists of markets for one’s flash fiction: Flash Fiction Chronicles, Stories in your pocket: how to write flash fiction, Flash Fiction: What’s It All About, and Writing Flash Fiction.

How did I approach writing my first flash fiction? Naively. I look back and shudder at a few of my attempts. Imagine, I thought that a truncated traditional short story could be called flash fiction merely by downsizing the number of words! I learnt quickly to recognize the differences, primarily from the feedback I received from more knowledgeable writers. Also by reading other flash stories, especially by award-winning writers. Soon afterwards, with an energized zeal to improve, I produced stories with more favourable results, most of the time.

It’s not easy being a beginner no matter what field or interest one pursues. As writers we realize that we need to learn how to survive rejections or negative remarks. At times, I wondered if to go on making my writing available for public scrutiny or better to retreat and become a word-obsessed recluse. I chose to get my word out there. Let criticism bite me, depress me but then release me to become an even better writer. 

I have been writing flash fiction for more than a year now and realize I’m a long way from being looked upon as an excellent writer. However, I’ve made some headway.

Several of my ultra short works have been published. They can be found at:

Some of the sites I post at are:

Writing flash fiction is a challenge yet so much fun. Opportunities are endless. Six, twenty-five, fifty, one hundred word stories and variants and extensions of words, words, words …

There’s so much out there to discover, embrace and absorb. For one, I plan to look at magazine markets, an area I haven’t touched yet. More possibilities.

I’m definitely in flash fiction mode.

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Krystyna Fedosejevs writes poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction. One of her six word stories will be published in the Summer 2014 issue of From the Depths. A recent piece was published at 100 Word Stories. She delights neighbourhood cats with her singing in Alberta, Canada.

by Len Kuntz

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Even though a plethora of flash fiction exists today, I’ll admit to not having heard of the term until four years ago.

I was a little stunned by the discovery of this new-found form, the way you might be to all of a sudden learn that there’s an extra room in your house, a room filled with delicious treasures.

Browsing internet sites around 2010, I saw that talents such as Kim Chinquee, xTx, Kathy Fish and Meg Pokrass were turning out tight pieces of writing as short as 300 words—writing that was not poetry, though it often had a similar lyrical quality. Some of the pieces were even fully formed, containing a narrative arc and plot, while others sizzled instead, like Molotov cocktails left tossed in the air, leaving the reader to decipher whatever decimation might occur.

The sudden rise of flash fiction’s popularity is, in a way, akin to that of Twitter—both of them seemingly rising up out of the blue while quickly securing a place in our consciousness, should we choose to take an interest.

And much like Twitter—or Flash Chat for that matter—flash fiction is about brevity; about the ability to say something noteworthy or meaningful in a very confined space.

I don’t know if flash fiction’s appeal is, as many have said, a result of our shortening attention spans, but whatever the reasons, I’m happy to see how vital the form has become.

The allure of flash, for me, is that it mirrors many of the writing adages I’d been taught years ago:

  • start in the middle of the action;
  • make every word count;
  • hit the reader between the eyes;
  • murder your darlings;
  • deliver a unique, singular voice.

Along with these challenges, I love the notion of getting in and getting out, the idea of swiftly painting a picture that is clear enough to let a reader know what’s happening, yet one that also allows readers to fill in the blanks vis-à-vis their own imagination.

I’m far from an expert on the art form, yet I do think the best flash writing gives readers pause after they’ve finished a piece: it stops them from going onto the next because something shocking or wholly unexpected has just happened, or perhaps the writing was simply so taut and sonically rendered that there’s no other choice than to let it simmer, almost soul-like inside you.

Of course there are all types of flash fiction and just as many kinds of motivation for writing it.

I most like being able to take scraps of memory or biography, or maybe just a lovely-sounding line, wrap it in fraud, and then pepper gunpowder throughout the piece. The title of Kevin Samsell’s flash and story collection, “Creamy Bullets,” is a good description of the type of writing I hope to create: creamy bullets. Bullets that bite, while also having the tendency to simultaneously soothe.

While reading novels, we live with the characters for weeks and years, getting to know their idiosyncrasies and foibles. Novels transport us and often occur over great time spans. Reading a novel requires an investment. It demands patience and diligence.

Flash fiction is usually the opposite of all these things. Flash is a shotgun blast, or even a single piece of shotgun shrapnel plucked from within the greater blast. It’s immediate and jarring. The investment necessary is simply a few minutes.

We are lucky today, to see the proliferation of both styles of writing; having our cake and eating it, too.

To the novelists, I say, Bravo! Keep at it. We need you.

To the flash writers, I say, Keep dropping those bombs. Write on. We need you more than you might know.

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Len Kuntz is the author of The Dark Sunshine available from Connotation Press and at editor at the online literary magazine Metazen. You can also find him at lenkuntz.blogspot.com.

 

by Jim Harrington

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I asked members of our Facebook New and Emerging Writers Group if they listened to music while they wrote, or if they preferred silence. It wasn’t a scientific poll, and only a handful responded. The majority replied “yes” or “it depends.” One stated having music playing through earbuds while writing in Starbucks was a necessity. A few indicated they wrote best in silence.

What prompted the question was a series from a few years ago called Inside Creative Writing by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler, in which he lets listeners peek over his shoulder while he writes a story. The series consists of seventeen one-hour sessions. If nothing else, you should watch the first twenty to thirty minutes of Session 1 to learn how Mr. Butler chooses a story and begins the writing process. Part of this is selecting music to play in the background. And if you listen long enough, you’ll see that he changes the music to match the mood the story grows into.

Even though the response was small, the comments echoed others I’ve read. I fall into the “it depends” group. If I don’t have music playing, it’s most often because an idea came to me and I rushed to get words written down before they scurried into a deep, dark abyss. By the way, I have some light jazz playing as I write this.

When I play music, it’s either jazz or classical, and it must be instrumental music. Singing, for some reason, is distracting. When I stopped to reread what I’d written to this point, I noticed my foot tapping to a blues beat. I wasn’t aware of this until I paused. So, singing equals distracting, tapping foot equals not distracting. I wonder what else I do while in a writing zone that I’m unaware of. I’d ask my wife, but I’m not sure I want to know.

One required series of courses for my undergrad work in music education was on the history of the major periods of classical music (Renaissance, Baroque, Classic, Romantic, etc.). The last course was Twentieth Century Music, where we studied the later, atonal music of Arnold Schoenberg, works like Dripsody by Hugh Le Caine, where a single drop of water was replicated many times and permuted into a rhythmic piece, and 3′ 22″ by John Cage.

In the latter, the performer sat at a piano for three minutes and twenty-two seconds doing nothing. What did you say? Sat? Didn’t play anything? That’s correct. The idea was to show the audience that there is no such thing as silence.

One of my professors experienced this first-hand. He befriended a gentleman who claimed to have built a completely soundproof room. Interested, the professor visited his new friend to experience the room for himself. When he stepped out of the room, he said,

“I thought the room was soundproof.”

“It is,” said the friend.

“No, it’s not. I heard two sounds, a high pitch and a low pitch.”

“Oh, those. The low pitch was your heart beating. The high pitch was blood moving through your veins and arteries.”

I know, creepy. However, it does show there’s no such thing as silence. As humans, we train ourselves to block out unwanted sound (a.k.a. noise). Don’t believe me? Here’s an exercise.

Step One: Get a kitchen timer, or open your smartphone’s timer app, or guesstimate a time.
Step Two: Set the timer for two minutes.
Step Three: Turn off any music playing.
Step Four: Sit back, close your eyes, clear your mind of all thoughts, and listen.
Step Five: When your time is up, write down all of the sounds you heard.

It was pretty quiet this morning. Here’s my list.

two cars drove by
a car door shut
the furnace turned on
an unknown buzzing sound (probably from our ancient refrigerator)
a clock ticking
my mother called—had to start over :)

 Of course, your results will vary. Some sounds can be ignored (cars driving by), others can’t (mother’s call). And some sounds may provide a story prompt. Play “what if” with the sounds on your list to see if any of them lead anywhere.

Playing music or requiring silence when we write is analogous to outlining vs pantsing. We need to find out what works best for us and not determine our process based on what others do. Experimenting is part of this, also. If you’ve never had music playing, put some on. If you always write with music in the background, turn it off. See what happens.

Another thought came to me as I read the responses to my question. Would it help set the mood and develop characters if the music playing in the background reflected the time period of the story? For example, for a historical piece would it be helpful to play music from that era, like Glen Miller for a story set in pre-World War II America. Or maybe music from Star Wars, or Also sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss (a theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey)? Don’t have any of these pieces in your music collection? Online services like Pandora, Spotify, and others have the capability to fill the void.

 ______________________

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 Aliza Greenblatt

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A Technical Writer by day and a novelist by night, Mark Noce also finds time to write flash fiction. While his short pieces tend to be contemporary fiction, his novels consist of historical thrillers set in eras ranging from Medieval Wales to Caribbean piracy to the American Civil War, just to name a few. He loves reading, writing, traveling, gardening, sailing, and spending time with his family at home in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Aliza Greenblatt: According to your blog, you write historical novels and contemporary short stories. How do you pick which time period to base your novels in? When you first started writing, did you begin with novels or short stories? What drew you to flash fiction?

Mark Noce: I love writing novels! Needless to say, I have so many ideas for books that I really wonder whether I can get them all written in one lifetime. When it comes to picking a time period or setting for a book, I actually prefer to try and write a single opening line first, and then let that tell me what kind of story I should write. It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg conundrum, but it works for me. However, novels take a long time to write. In contrast, flash fiction gives me a wonderful release, because I can complete a single story within a day or two. It’s really satisfying to see a 1,000-word piece of fiction come to fruition while the inspiration is still fresh in my mind.

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

MN: It’s funny. There’s what I want to write, and what I actually write. I often think I’ll write a story about a subject I just read in a book or in a movie I saw, and then all of the sudden I’ll come up with an opening line for an entirely different story. I’ve learned not to fight it, and simply go with the flow. The story that comes out effortlessly in that first draft is the one I stick with to the end.

AG: This piece, to me, was a retelling of the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight legend. It was also a lot more interesting because instead of being themed around chivalry, it was about facing your fears. Was that your intention? Why did you decide to make the two main protagonists kids?

MN: Meet Me at the Waterfront is definitely inspired by Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which in turn is inspired by the Celtic Irish legends of Cu Chulainn (which predate it by at least a thousand years). So when approaching such an old and revered tale, I had to put my own modern twist on it. I’m fascinated by myth, and I think childhood stories show myth in a revealing way. As children, our schoolyard encounters seem like epic events that we often forget or dismiss as we get older, but I believe such moments in our lives hold a power and a wisdom about who we really are underneath. The protagonists in this story needed to be children, because as kids we’re much more willing to accept the inexplicable elements of life that we often try to rationalize or ignore as we turn into adults.

AG: The main conflict of the story was about the appearance of bravery versus being afraid, but accepting the consequences anyway. Why did the narrator decide to stand his ground even though he was certain he was going to die?

MN: That’s hard to answer in a few words. I could write an entire essay on the hero’s motivations, but that’s why I like stories. In fewer words, I can give you the whole gist even though it may not be as direct as a series of longwinded statements. Why do we do anything? It’s simply in our natures, it’s who we are, and what we want. I don’t think the protagonist himself knew he would stand his ground until he actually did it. As the saying goes, it’s in the abyss that we find ourselves.

AG: What were some of the challenges of writing this story? What, if anything, did the flash format simplify? Do you have any favorite parts?

MN: Writing flash fiction has definitely sharpened all of my writing in general. In order to get under the 1,000-word limit, I have to slash anything unnecessary and still maintain the core of the story. As a novelist, it’s a truly invigorating experience, testing my abilities and helping me to get to the heart of the story with an immediacy that all good stories should have.

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?

MN: Oh, yes! My next flash fiction piece, Chronicles of the SFPD, comes out on June 21st at Every Day Fiction. In addition, I’m revising my next historical thriller entitled Between Two Fires, which you can learn more about here. If you like what you’ve seen of my work so far, please check them out. Thanks!

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 Aliza Greenblatt

Daniel Zundi

Daniel Zundl writes horror, science fiction and other speculative fiction. He lives in northern New Jersey with his wife. In addition to his current career as an immigration attorney, he was a pyro technician, a grounds keeper and a video store clerk. In addition to writing, his hobbies include hiking, fishing and hunting.

Aliza Greenblatt: So if my research is correct, I believe “Digital Commute” is your first publication. Congratulations! How does it feel to be a published writer? How long have you been writing stories?

Daniel Zundi: Yes, this is my first published work. To be honest, it feels a little surreal. I got the news that my story was selected for publication the day before I was getting married, so it was pretty much one of the best weeks of my life. I’ve been writing fiction since I was eleven or twelve. Kind of an embarrassing story, but my first works were writing fan-fiction for a friend’s newsletter. I found I enjoyed it so much I just kept writing even after everyone had lost interest in the newsletter. When I first started writing I never thought about publication, I did it because I found catharsis in the narrative process. Things in a story don’t happen by accident, nothing’s random. I like that.

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

DZ: Process is a very generous term for my writing style. Usually, I get an idea followed by a manic burst of creative energy in which I write as much as I possibly can in one sitting. Then, bit by bit, I flesh out the skeleton of the idea until it can stand on its own. I usually ask one or more friends to read it, use their notes to make changes or argue with them about why I don’t think it needs to be changed (and then make the changes they suggested anyway). Afterwards, I let it sit for a day or two and re-read it. If I still like it after all that I start submitting it to various venues based on the content of the story.

I think that the most important part of the writing process for me is fleshing out the bones of a story. A good concept is important, but for me turning that concept into a story is difficult, it requires a flash of inspiration. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a great idea but I couldn’t make the characters come alive or turn it into a narrative.

AG: On your  blog there is line which I love: “I think that all great stories start, in some degree, as an escape from the ordinary, a way of looking at the world around you and seeing something bizarre and interesting.” What were the seeds that started this story?

DZ: My wife provided the seed of this story. We were talking about teleporters and she said the word “digitizer,” which I think is from the Tim Allen movie Galaxy Quest. But it occurred to me that if a teleporter existed it would have to compress the information of the thing it was transporting into a form that could be used by a computer, namely binary. I also knew that audiophiles prefer analog formats, especially records or reel-to-reel tapes, because the analog form contains more information than the digital. I wondered what the rounding off of a person might be like. The fact that my daily commute was a little over an hour a day gave me the idea to explore the concept through the everyday user, a lawyer like myself.

AG: The theme of this story is  captured in one line: “A million inconsequential advances added up to an unrecognizable future.” Do you see this happening with some of the technology we have now? How?

DZ: Absolutely. For example the communication industry has changed the entire shape of our society, from the language we use right down to the way we walk down the street. Even the physical landscape has changed; the mountains near my home town are lined with cell towers. We’re living in a world where connectivity is the norm and solitude is strictly for the eccentric.

Cell phones for example have become the mechanism through which people digitally commute. In my parent’s generation, if a person wasn’t at work they weren’t accountable to their bosses. Now, if my boss wants to reach me he can call me, and if that doesn’t work he can text or email me. I no longer have an excuse for not being reachable. I’m not necessarily saying these advancements are bad, they allow me personally to keep in touch with people I haven’t physically seen in years, but I do think that depending on how a given technology is used it can be a force for good or ill.

AG: As I read the story, it occurred to me that the pieces the narrator lost of himself were things he might have lost anyway as he aged. But in this case, the change happened much more rapidly. Do you think the narrator will learn how to cope without his missing pieces? Would anyone believe him if he tried to explain?

DZ: Wow, that’s a complicated question. I wonder to what degree the narrator’s losses are real or just imagined and if those that are real can be attributed to the teleporter instead of the inevitable march of time. I guess that doesn’t really answer your question. I think it will be very difficult for the narrator to cope. To some extent everyone struggles with aging and losing their abilities, it’s the struggle against time that keeps the anti-aging industry in business.

The narrator’s problems are more serious because, even if just in his own mind, he has only himself to blame. He saw that things were changing, he knew from his phone call to the company that he would lose parts of himself, yet he continued to teleport. When he looks in the mirror and sees an unfamiliar face looking back at him it will be difficult to blame anyone but himself and guilt might be the hardest thing he has to face.

Whether people will believe him is another complicated question. How do you prove you can’t taste a particular flavor anymore? I think a portion of the population, namely those without teleporters, would be more inclined to believe him, if simply because they think the rich are getting their comeuppance. At the same time, I think people who just bought a teleporter would be reluctant to believe him. Trying to convince someone of something subjective is practically impossible

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?

DZ: Well, to be honest with you I have ADD so my attention is usually split between a number of endeavors. Right now I’m editing a manuscript for a novel, writing the first draft of another, I have two completed stories I’m shopping around and a half dozen other stories I’m in various stages of writing and editing. Other than Digital Commute, I don’t have anything else your readers could view right now. However, I will post any updates about my writings on my blog.

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-2Aliza 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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